Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all members of the committee. I will not trespass long on your time, because we have with us people I want you to hear.
I wanted to set a bit of context. Some of you were in that Parliament—Don, certainly—in June 2012 when I first tabled Bill C-442 for first reading. We have had tremendous non-partisan, all-party support from the beginning. The bill was supported in the House of Commons unanimously and went to the Senate, where it was also supported unanimously.
The bill's nuts and bolts required a conference to be held, bringing in medical experts, federal-provincial government health departments, and people from what we now think of as the Lyme disease community, people such as some of the witnesses before us today, Sue and Jennifer.
I wanted to give you a sense that the conference was an extraordinary success. Our public health officer at the time, Greg Taylor, was very strong in saying that we needed to do more. We've been failing our patients. We've been failing people with Lyme disease across Canada.
I wanted to say briefly that now that the framework has been published, the committee's work for two days this week is very important. I know you'll hear evidence about how serious Lyme disease is, how fast it's spreading, and frankly, the hell on earth it has been for patients with Lyme disease. One of my constituents went to 18 different specialists before finally thinking, “Okay, maybe we'll try going to the States,” and then finally got some help.
The bottom line here, I believe, is that any Canadian experiencing Lyme disease should be able to get treatment in Canada, and we're not there yet. The Minister of Health herself doesn't have a magic wand, nor does she have the jurisdiction to make it so, but the framework gives us some tools. I wanted to point us in that direction, as the positive work going forward.
In the framework document, in appendix 1 is the federal action plan. I wanted to turn your attention to point 2 on education and awareness and point 3 on guidelines. Both of these sections point us in the direction of finding ways to educate medical professionals.
Medical professionals are a very educated bunch. I have the deepest respect for the doctors of this community. In fact, the Canadian Medical Association endorsed Bill C-442. Their letter endorsing it made the point that Lyme disease is an extremely difficult disease to diagnose. The advice, which I agree with in this framework, is that the diagnosis is primarily a clinical diagnosis. In other words, lab tests are quite unreliable, no matter where they are taken. False positives and false negatives are problems.
What we need, when someone presents with a weird range of symptoms, is for every medical doctor in Canada, every family doc, to think to themselves, “I wonder if it's Lyme disease.” If you respond quickly and with early treatment, if it is Lyme disease, this person will be restored to full health, but if you delay, thinking that maybe it's something else, you can actually end up having the disease become much more serious and last much longer.
Here are the two pieces I'm referring to. Under “Education and awareness,” it reads:
Develop a national tick and Lyme disease education and awareness campaign
—this is the federal commitment—
in collaboration with partners, that addresses...Recognition of Lyme disease symptoms [to assist] front-line professionals [to] perform early diagnosis and treatment
Then, under “Guidelines and best practices,” in point 3, it says:
Work with international public health partners
—because, by the way, Lyme disease is spreading very quickly in Europe—
to share best practices and disseminate domestically
These are areas where we don't yet have a clear sense of how we're going to do it. The commitment is there. It's clear that we can't polarize this issue with good guys and bad guys. That's not appropriate. Everybody here is a good guy. Everybody is trying to figure out what to do, to use the right tools, and to start ensuring that every Canadian who experiences Lyme disease is helped.
There are many people who have had it for a very long time, and those particular patients are a represented group where the research money will be very helpful. We have $4 million for research. That money, I hope, will go towards finding a vaccine but also towards finding ways to help people who have what's either described as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome or chronic Lyme disease. I don't want to get involved in that ideological divide. I just know there are a lot of people in wheelchairs who need help.
I've taken longer than I actually told you I would, Mr. Chair. You said I could have five minutes. I said I wouldn't need that, but at 4 minutes and 43 seconds I will stop, and I thank you for your attention.