Health Disparities: Unacceptable for a Wealthy Country such as Canada

Ottawa, June 4, 2009 – Today, the Subcommittee on Population Health of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology tabled its report, “A Healthy, Productive Canada: A Determinant Of Health Approach.” With the release of this final report, the subcommittee has come to the end of a long journey that began in February 2007, during the 1st session of the 39th Parliament, when the subcommittee received a mandate from the Senate “to examine and report on the impact of the multiple factors and conditions that contribute to the health of Canada’s population – referred to collectively as the determinants of health.”Over the past year, the subcommittee has published four in-depth reports examining various aspects of population health policy: Population Health Policy: International Perspectives, Maternal Health and Early Child Development in Cuba, Health Policy in Canada: Federal and Provincial/Territorial Perspectives and Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. These reports have clearly established that multiple factors and conditions – or “determinants” – contribute to or undermine the health of Canadians.

Senator Keon, Chair of the subcommittee stated that: “The federal role is to assist with the building of healthy and vibrant communities. The need to provide funding in a flexible manner is imperative so as to allow and stimulate communities to be more creative in the development of programs oriented toward the development of healthy practices.”

Senator Pépin, Deputy Chair of the subcommittee, added that: “Even if well integrated, health care services alone, do not make a community healthy. Governments at all level should support an overall, community-based approach to health and human development and assist with the integration of health and social services, wherever possible, and where it makes sense for the users.”

The subcommittee found that Canada is seriously falling behind countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden and stated that it is unacceptable for a wealthy country such as Canada to continue to tolerate such disparities in health. Furthermore the subcommittee stressed that disparities may widen even further with the current economic crisis, which is unprecedented in terms of its global reach and impact. The subcommittee maintains that a whole of government approach is required with intersectoral action embracing business, volunteers and community organizations. This will not be easy, but it can and must be done. We cannot afford to do otherwise, says the report.

The report demonstrates clearly that to implement a population health information system with longitudinal capacity that can monitor, evaluate and report on well being throughout the human life course is required. Community initiatives that integrate education, health and social services are required so we can reduce disparities, stem the prevalence of disease and increase productivity. We must not be intimidated by this task, which is doable and which will eventually lead to a nation with health equity, well-being and drastically improved productivity. The challenge is for every Canadian, the benefits are to every Canadian.

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