CPHA’s Global Health Program: The end of an era

Ian Culbert
Ian Culbert
Executive Director

March 31, 2013 marked the end of CPHA’s last remaining global health project. On that date, all activities related to the Canadian International Immunization Initiative – Phase 3 (CIII-3) were completed and, for the first time in 31 years, CPHA has no other ongoing global health initiatives, other than our participation in the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA). We can, however, look back on a long history of valuable contribution to improving, promoting and safeguarding the health of millions of women, children, youth and men through our Association’s global public health initiatives.

Since 1982, with financial contributions from several sources including the former Canadian International Development Agency, CPHA has provided technical and financial assistance to over 400 partners (ministries of health, institutes of public health, public health associations (PHAs) and allied health bodies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions) in over 80 countries in support of their efforts to enhance public health functions and primary health care services.

Sasakawa Health Prize
The Sasakawa Health Prize, presented to CPHA by WHO at the 1992 World Health Assembly, in recognition of CPHA’s innovativeness and excellence in international health development.

Through our flagship international initiative, the Strengthening of Public Health Associations Program and several ancillary projects, CPHA has provided technical and financial assistance to establish and nurture 30 national and 2 regional PHAs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and entities. We have also implemented international initiatives in the fields of occupational health and safety, environmental health, immunization, family and reproductive health, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, tobacco control, epidemiologic surveillance capacity, and health promotion. CPHA has also played a significant role in advocacy and action on global public health issues, often in association with the WFPHA. CPHA’s contribution to increasing access to essential primary health care services and to enhancing global public health capacity has been recognized by several bodies, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

Dramatic changes have taken place over the past few decades. The situation has changed not only within many LMIC, but the world as a whole is responding to many more global public health threats. Many LMIC are facing an increasingly heavy burden of disease and are dealing with potential new threats, such as SARS and the anticipated avian flu pandemic. However, their capacity to respond to this situation in an effective and timely manner is influenced by many factors, internal as well as external. Furthermore, there has been a transition in the foreign aid paradigm and in the nature of the relationship with overseas partner organizations.

In early 2007, CPHA took stock of its achievements and put in place a strategy to guide the Association in its international activities over the subsequent several years. A Global Health Advisory Committee was convened, composed of four prominent members of the Canadian public health community with considerable international experience. The Committee’s mandate was to advise CPHA about the orientation of its involvement in global health and the mechanisms for a sustainable and vibrant CPHA Global Health Program.

Since that time, however, the federal government’s funding priorities have resulted in few opportunities for Canadian NGOs to meaningfully engage in global health work. We are not alone in this situation –many other national organizations that have made significant contributions to global development goals are no longer receiving funding. The federal government’s current plan to align itself more closely with the private sector to promote Canadian interests abroad is seemingly incongruent with the values and principles of overseas development, but it is unlikely that there will be meaningful change in the near future.

At CPHA, we know that working in partnership with and contributing to organizational and performance capacity of ministries of health, institutes of public health, PHAs and other health sector organizations in LMIC have proven to be effective means of improving public health capacity and competence. Should appropriate and adequately funded opportunities arise, future CPHA global public health initiatives will once again be based on CPHA’s core philosophy of enhancing equitable access to the conditions that affect health for all people.

Over the past 31 years, there have been a number of constants in CPHA’s global health work that deserve mention. We have been fortunate to work with dedicated and passionate staff who consistently went above and beyond the call of duty to design, implement and evaluate highly innovative and effective global health programs. None of our efforts would ever have gotten off the ground were it not for our program partners in over 80 countries, whose representatives enthusiastically welcomed CPHA’s initiatives into their countries and helped make them successful. Finally, our volunteers have been our greatest strength. From sitting on the Review and Evaluation Committee to travelling overseas as technical advisors or consultants, CPHA members from every corner of Canada have freely given of their time and spirit to make this a better world. To all of you, who are the true heart and soul of this Association, you have our collective thanks.

Ian Culbert
Executive Director