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Canadian Public Health Association

The Chief Public Health Officer's first annual report is released

The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) congratulates the Government of Canada on the release of the first annual report from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO), Dr. David Butler-Jones, which was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, June 18, 2008. The report's primary purpose is to highlight some of the key current public health issues in Canada and to consider those issues in light of the determinants of health and how they contribute to health inequalities. We hope that this report will stimulate dialogue on the factors that affect human health and the ways to advance public health and reduce inequalities in Canada.  

As the report indicates, the time to act is now. CPHA endorses the actions highlighted in the CPHO's report, including:

  • the call for a combination of universal and targeted policies and programs that enhance social investments to alleviate poverty and promote health;
  • the development of community capacity to design and put into place effective solutions to health-affecting situations;
  • the facilitation and application of inter-sectoral action for health;
  • the generation and application of knowledge and best practices that will promote, protect and improve the public's health; and
  • enhanced public health leadership at all levels and across sectors. 

To support a call to action, the report shows us that our public health system and publicly funded health care system have contributed to  improved health status of the Canadian population, while at the same time recognizing that these health benefits have not been equally distributed and that a gradient of health inequalities exists for Canadians living with disadvantages that cannot be 'fixed' by health care--Canada's Aboriginal peoples, new Canadians, lone mothers, and those living in poverty are just a few examples. While there is clear evidence presented on these inequalities, sometimes the current actions to address them fall short of an upstream, public health response.  

We welcome the opportunity to consider how we can truly reduce inequalities using a public health approach and determinants analysis. Fortunately, the CPHO's report reaffirmed presentations delivered by Sir Michael Marmot, Dr. John Frank, the Honourable Monique Bégin and Dr. Johan Mackenbach during the recent 2008 CPHA Annual Conference, who provided evidence about the importance of using both  universal (whole population) and targeted (most vulnerable population) strategies to address health inequalities. The Call to Action emanating from the 2008 CPHA Annual Conference supports the CPHO's first annual report.   

CPHA calls upon the federal government to reinforce its leadership in public health and take progressive action to address the broad spectrum of determinants of health in consultation with the provincial and territorial governments and municipalities. The pan-Canadian Public Health Network is one means of achieving this objective. Other mechanisms that facilitate the sharing of information and lessons learned about effective policies and programs should also be supported. Canada must move beyond pilot projects and roll-out effective multi-year initiatives. Enhanced and sustained funding mechanisms are needed to support the capacity of communities to put into place effective services and programs that contribute to addressing health inequalities and improving health and quality of life. The federal and provincial/ territorial governments agreed in 2005 to a set of Health Goals for Canada. These goals should become the way we measure progress in achieving the elimination of health inequalities.  

The timing of the report's release coincides with several important public health-related events. The WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has wrapped up its consultations and will release its report this fall. The Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, which concludes its deliberations at the end of June, will table its report later this year. These reports signal an opportunity to address the political, social and economic factors that influence our health and reduce significant health inequalities in Canada. This is the essence of the public health approach and for that we salute the first Chief Public Health Officer of Canada report for leading the dialogue and for offering meaningful actions for all sectors of Canadian society. CPHA looks forward to working with governmental and non-governmental partners to reduce health inequalities in Canada.