Canada has endured the ravages of SARS and the havoc wreaked by a listeriosis outbreak in recent years. Both episodes exposed the glaring shortcomings in our public health protection systems, notably the inability of federal and provincial authorities to seamlessly share information and resources – and act decisively.
Now, with many worried about the spectre of a future Swine flu pandemic, it’s worth asking if we have learned any of the painful lessons of the past. The evidence suggests we are lagging.
At root, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, lacks the autonomy and clout he needs to fulfil his mission to protect the lives of Canadians. Indeed, there’s a very real risk that Canada’s public health watchdog won’t be able to provide a full measure of protection from pandemics and other threats.
Last week, the Canadian Medical Association Journal catalogued some of those gaps, arguing for a “health care czar” to deal with any H1N1 flu pandemic down the road.
Such a czar would go too far; it’s not a good fit in Canada’s complex constitutional setting. But the journal was correct in highlighting a public health gap that must be addressed.
The system’s weakness was painfully apparent in last summer’s bungled listeriosis crisis. Local public health agencies, provincial health ministries and federal health and agriculture officials were all involved in handling that outbreak, but no one assumed full responsibility.
Twenty-two people died. Some might well have been saved if a stronger federal health authority had produced a faster, more coherent response.
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• Putrajaya: A(H1N1): SMK USJ 12 teacher died of the flu (Link)
• Swine flu claims three more lives, toll 72 (Link)
• H1N1 claims one more life in Karnataka (total now at 13) (Link)
• Sunday Deaths in Pune and Bengaluru (Link)
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• Baby girl succumbs to swine flu in Pune (Link)
• HINI pandemic: death toll touches 67 (Link)
• 4 more die of H1N1, toll 74 (Link)
• Japan’s attempts to import swine flu vaccine may be too late (Link)
• Eight new swine flu cases (Link)
• Macao’s A/H1N1 confirmed cases rise to 621 (Link)
• Namibia H1N1 cases up to 23 (Link)
New Caledonia Island
• New Caledonia Region swine flu death toll rises to 5 (Link)
• Three die of A/H1N1 flu in southern Spain (Link)
• Sixth swine flu death in Scotland (Link)
• Overuse of antivirals could make H1N1 pandemic worse (Link)
• Conn Swine Flu Vaccine Company Set for Human Trials (Link)
• Beaverton truck driver with swine flu dies in Illinois (Link)
• Maryland Records Seventh Swine Flu Death (Link)
• Swine Flu May Cause 90,000 U.S. Deaths, Report Says (Link)
• Panel Urges Some Swine Flu Vaccine Next Month (Link)
• Schools Urged to Prepare for Swine Flu Absences (Link)
• Swine Flu Shot Protection? Maybe by Thanksgiving (Link)
• US: Students prep America student wants schools closed until flu vaccine is ready (Link)
• Alabama hospital bans visits by children under 12 (Link)
• LA: St. Tammany Schools have increased absences, H1N1 cases suspected (Link)
• OH: U. Cincinnati, XU Confirm 2 Cases Of H1N1 Flu On Campus (Link)
• FL: County Cites 5th H1N1-Related Death (Link)
• Vietnam sets new record for H1N1 infections (Link)
• Risk Management: Real-time data sharing is key to swine flu control (Link)
• Flu severity hard to predict: WHO (Link)
• An End to Flu? (universal flu vaccine) (Link)
• Over 1,000 new A/H1N1 flu cases confirmed in Europe (Link)
• Smokers Risk Swine Flu Complications Like Pneumonia, Data Show (Link)
• Swine virus more directly lethal than seasonal flu: scientist (Link)