Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam holds a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada’s top doctor calls for ‘structural change’ to defeat pandemic

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is calling for “structural change” across health, social, and economic sectors to deal with the impact of the pandemic that has exposed deep societal inequities.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday Tam presented her annual report titled “From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19.”

“This year’s annual report describes the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadian society, both directly and indirectly,” Tam said.

“These findings are more than just uncomfortable facts about our country during this pandemic. They’re the lived realities of countless Canadians.”

‘Systemic gaps’

The report calls on various levels of government to incorporate a “health equity” approach into pandemic preparedness, response and recovery.

“COVID-19 has shone a real spotlight on equalities in health and systemic gaps resulting in inequities,” Tam said.

“I do see COVID-19 as a catalyst for collaboration from health, social and economic sectors, and I have observed at the federal level, but also from local levels, and provincial levels.”

The pandemic has disproportionately affected seniors, essential workers, racialized populations, people living with disabilities and women, the report found.

From a global perspective, Canada ranked 79th out of 210 countries with respect to total cases per million inhabitants and 26th for total deaths per million, as of Aug. 22, 2020, the report said.

Governance, social cohesion and beefed up health capacity

The disproportionately higher ranking based on fatality rates was largely driven by outbreaks in long-term care homes, the report said.

“We need to improve the health, social and economic conditions for these populations to achieve health equity and to protect us all from the threat of COVID-19 and future pandemics,” Tam wrote in the introduction to the report.

The report singles out three areas where action should be taken to improve the country’s pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery.

First, there needs to be sustained leadership and governance at all levels for structural change across health, social and economic sectors, Tam said.

Second, Canada needs to harness the power of social cohesion as a key ingredient to controlling and minimizing the negative impacts of the pandemic, she said.

And finally, the country’s health capacity needs to be strengthened to ensure that Canada has a health system that is able to surge and adapt during a crisis while maintaining capacity to address on-going critical issues, Tam said.

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