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Friday, 8 November 2013

Chief Public Health Officer’s 2013 report on Infectious Diseases - or “How to safely say anything about public health in Canada these days”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has released his 2013 report. This is his sixth report, most buried without any fanfare and with no public face to the release.  This year there was one notice sent by CPHA, but the report was again released with no media notice and this year not even a mention on the PHAC home site.  Once again the CPHO role relegated to some back corner and not standing tall for the protection of the health of Canadians.   While this should be the last report for Dr. David Butler-Jones as he has indicated a need to step down due to health reasons, it should also have been a time to celebrate his remarkable contributions to Canadian public health and courage in wandering into the unknown waters of the CPHO role.

The report focuses on the state of communicable disease control.  Truly a “safe” topic for public health, a theme carried throughout the report. 

The report opens with the “safe” topic of vaccines in preventing disease.  It touches on the touchy subject of health care associated infections and while it hints at the growing problems of C. Difficile and MRSA, it quickly moves to the safer issues of hand hygiene and infection prevention.  The document then meanders into antimicrobial stewardship and celebrates some of Canada’s success.

Buried deep in the chapter on tuberculosis is a hint of the persistent problem in Aboriginal populations, but the urgent problem of TB in Inuit populations is carefully skirted. Unless you note the axis break on the graph, you may be left with the impression Inuit populations have rates twice that of Aboriginal reserve dwellers instead of ten times that rate, and forty times the general Canadian population rate.  Sections such as this speak to the sanitizing of the report by spin doctors and not public health professionals.

Not surprisingly the section on foodborne and waterborne illness is well written and is recommended reading on Canada’s solid approach in both these fields. 

As one nears the end of the report, the bad news on increasing rates of sexually transmitted illnesses is alluded to. The subheading on “individual responsibility” reflecting the predominant current government’s approach to the problem, although with credit there are other approaches mentioned and the brevity of the individual responsibility section might just be a nicely concealed barb from the CPHO.

Share the reports, they are a reflection of what is happening in Canada, albeit the topic and the presentation are as “safe” as one can achieve in the current government’s clutches. Access the on-line version at 2013 CPHO report.    

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