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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

How Canada Performs: A National report card with international comparables.

Ask any classroom how many people like getting their report cards, and perhaps a few stellar students will sheepishly lift their hands.  Having our performance assessed is not a favourite pastime for most of us.

This shyness away from grading extends to government performance as well.  In a confederation, one of the strongest roles that a central government can play is in monitoring and reporting on the activities of its members (provinces).  However, in keeping with Canadian mentality, this is frowned upon, and even when the federal government moved to reporting provincial performance as a condition of the 2003 Canada Health Accord, this was vehemently rejected by the provinces. 

In fairness, collective performance is often influenced by so many factors outside of the control of the responsible organization – in this case the provinces.  

Tell that to Bay Street, where performance is monitored and measured essentially in real time. Corporate entities are continuously under scrutiny for delivery of their outcomes, and in a day and age where triple or quadruple bottom lines are measured, it is not limited to performance in fiscal deliverables.

Hence we now have CIHI reporting out on health authority performance (subprovincial level activity) May 2012 and that only occurred since MacLean’s magazine was printing the information in previous years.  Other agencies have taken up the call with Coalition for active health kids, Unicef, Lung association on influenza, and the Canadian Pediatric Society annual report card on children eg 2012 report.

So when last week the economic think tank called the Conference Board of Canada released their score card on health in Canada, while the provincial governments might shudder, the media coverage was extensive.   British Columbia’s government was lapping up the highest ranking, while those with poorer scores such as Manitoba and Newfoundland still felt obliged to respond  rather than discredit the methodology.  How Canada performs.      
Where we continue to fail is that the arms length bodies that are now holding us accountable for performance, have minimal ability to influence the decision process that could change the system.  

If we were to look south of the border, CDC seems to be able to much more readily report on state and county level health information, and ultimately influence resource and policy decisions.

The Conference Board of Canada report card may be a step in the right direction and notable that a predominately corporate entity is having such influence on improving social outcomes.   

Friday, 13 February 2015

HPV vaccine debate in the Toronto Star. Unmasking the dark side of the media

The Toronto Star HPV saga dominated the airways beside the rage against anti-vaccinators as initiators, propagators and disseminators of measles.  Two highly incongruent stories, both highlighting the passionate debate around immunization.  

Some might say neither with tragic consequences yet in Canada, others will point to a mounting toil of preventable cervical cancer.  Irrespective of your view, both illustrate the challenge of bringing science to the public. 

Most child and youth immunization rates are slipping gradually.  HPV coverage is increasing.   Both reflect choices of parents and are less impacted by the needs or opinions of the persons receiving the vaccine.  

The Toronto Star original article spoke about the dark side of vaccination Dark side of Gardasil  
While not fully retracted the story, the Star has published an op-ed piece Feb 11 response which counters the original allegations. The publisher and editor-in-chief have come as close as possible without actually issuing a retraction or apology in stating the article “let the readers down”  Feb 11 CBC coverage

Where to from here?  Vaccination decision for most childhood illnesses have an outright acceptance currently running around 80%, that is at least four out of five parents follow the advise of their health care provider because they are just that “their health care provider”.  A trusted source of health information on which they depend.  

The doubters and objectors for most vaccines are in a total minority.   While a very small percentage of the population truly want to contrary, the majority prefer the comfort of being in the majority.  Each and everyone who should receive a hero’s medal for not only trying to protect themselves, but for the contributing to the protection of their community.

It remains to be seen if the Star will bow to the pressures of advertisers, readers, journalists and politicians in refraining from stirring the vaccine pot.   It seems like a good journalistic and business decision to review its reporting.  

Anything that is provided universally is going to have its share of coincidental events.  In the meantime, those that remember the horrors of facing these illnesses and the devastation they have caused in our lifetimes need to speak up to and share their wisdom, and the media have a duty to be truthful in their reporting - something the Star fell short on this time.  

Monday, 9 February 2015

Ebola control - a real public health success story that is not being told enough.

A great global public health success is being played out in West Africa. Perhaps overshadowed by the challenges associated with the treatment side of the equation in grappling with Ebola.

Treatment however does not reduce the number of new cases, it may reduce mortality, and there is some evidence that mortality rates are decreasing from an initial 50% and down to about 40%.  Good news for all those involved in treatment.

But the real story lies in the prevention of cases.  The past 6 weeks have seen what was an average of 600 to 700 cases per week, has dropped over 80% down to just over 100.  (124 for the week leading up to February 4  WHO weekly surveillance data.  The outbreak curve information embedded below. 

That is an amazing story and a tribute to the public education, public guidelines, body disposal, infection control, contact tracing, isolation procedures that have been implemented in response to the outbreak.

Yes there have tragically been 834 health care workers who have developed Ebola.  That however is only 4% of all the cases and the only group amenable to improved infection control in the treatment facilities. A mere fraction of the reduced incident cases. 

Noone should understate the contribution of these health care heroes working on the front lines.   However, where are the celebrations of those whose contribution is now saving hundreds of lives a week through reduced incidence.  It is typical of public health professionals to undersell their success and not celebrate too early, but perhaps a nod in the right direction that acknowledges their efforts to date and some support for continuing efforts are warranted.  In typical fashion, the vast vast majority of aid resources are directed to the treatment and management sites, not to the public health efforts. 

Thanks to the WHO and all those who have been involved in planning and implementing the fundamental public health interventions that have reduced this epidemic to the point that full containment is well within reach. 

Kudos to all public health professionals who have been involved. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Moose (measles) is loose again - and this time antivaxers are having the finger pointed at them.

Once again the moose is loose. 

Measles showed up in Disneyland in mid-December 2014.  The bastion for middle class North American children, the hallmark of all our childhood and most importantly the icon of healthy and safe families.  Yes there is something wrong with the picture of Disneyland being the source.   While only 84 cases were reported to date, this outbreak has the makings of something that could irritate North American for months.

Moreover this time the antivaccination movement is taking it on the chin. Over half the cases were confirmed as unimmunized, and only 8% had received two doses of vaccine.  The strain can also be linked back to the Philippine outbreak March 2014 which was traceable back to sub-Saharan Africa endemic illness that spread to the Netherlands unvaccinated community, that spread to the Phillippines through aid workers post the devastating November 2013 typhoon Haiyan.  

As Mickey would say “It’s a small world after all”

Measles is targeted for elimination, but until international efforts of all stripes come together, this is a persistent plague that will stay with us for decades.  The reasons behind the challenge in control were documented following another point source spread in the US, the 2012 Superbowl February 2012 that was more readily contained as the exposed population a tad older than the typical Disneyland crowds.

What is so notable in this event is the spread is being driven by the unimmunized and underimmunized, for which sufficient susceptible populations exist that transmission has the potential to sustained in the right circumstances. The calls for tighter controls on personal choice exemptions, increased mandatory requirements, improved documentation will once again remain in public’s eye through the core of the outbreak.  The defining event will be tragedy associated with someone who is ill.

So back to the demographics of the first generations at Disneyland.  Middle class, mostly likely insured, well off enough to afford a trip to Disneyland, likely well nourished – these are not the children that will suffer irreparable damage and death from measles.  They will recover and their parents may be steadfast in their belief that measles is a mild illness.   If, the virus spreads to a lower income gradient, undernourished and uninsured children – it will be at arms length from the causative agents of spread.  Moreover the very agents of spread will be the most vocal on the issues of personal choice, having dissociated themselves from any negative repercussions.

Good on those that are taking the antivaxers to task, its time the collective voices speak up for the public good.