Thank you very much.
Members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to your deliberations on the federal framework on Lyme disease.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the witnesses who spoke here on Tuesday, as well as the witnesses and members here today for contributing to raising awareness and supporting Canadians with Lyme disease. As a deputy chief public health officer and a physician, I am aware of how difficult and challenging infectious diseases can be. They can be even more difficult for patients when they are left feeling as though they have not been heard.
The front-line health professionals rely on guidance developed using an evidence-based approach and the principles of the scientific method. Ongoing discussions like the one we are having here today are an important part of the response to this and other public health issues.
Lyme disease has received attention from the public and from parliamentarians and led to the introduction and passing of the Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act in December 2014.
The framework is intended to help guide a way forward in areas where the federal government has a role, including national surveillance, guidelines and best practices, and education and awareness. Federal activities will continue to support the provinces and territories in their role in the delivery of health care services to Canadians.
Since the passing of the act in 2014, we have worked to provide Canadians with multiple opportunities to provide their input into the framework.
For example, last year the Public Health Agency of Canada hosted a conference in May to inform the development of a federal framework on Lyme disease. The conference brought together over 500 patients and their caregivers, health professionals, and federal and provincial representatives.
Earlier this year, we launched an online public consultation on the draft federal framework. The intent of this public consultation was for Canadians to review the draft framework and provide their feedback.
Through this public consultation process, over 400 individual or collective submissions and comments were received. These comments were carefully considered in the final federal framework.
On May 30, the Minister of Health formally introduced the Federal Framework on Lyme disease.
As you heard on Tuesday, Lyme disease is one of the most rapidly emerging infectious diseases in North America.
Environmental changes driven by climate change have been shown to affect the emergence and re-emergence of vector-borne diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks, including Lyme disease. As the geographic range of disease-transmitting vectors expands northward, there is increased risk to Canadians of being exposed.
The Government of Canada is committed to preventing and controlling the spread of vector-borne diseases through a number of measures.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has been monitoring Lyme disease for over a decade. We have seen cases increase from 144 in 2009 to an estimated 841 in 2016.
The Public Health Agency of Canada conducts vector-borne disease monitoring and surveillance, including diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. We also work collaboratively with our partners, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to undertake research on vector-borne diseases. All of this supports the development and delivery of well-informed and evidence-based infectious disease control frameworks, strategies, and interventions.
Effectively responding to the increased risk from vector-borne diseases requires ongoing investments in disease monitoring and surveillance, knowledge and information sharing, research, professional and public education, as well as collaboration with partners and stakeholders to facilitate innovation.
Since 2016, the Public Health Agency of Canada has directed almost $3 million to better understand and respond to Lyme disease in Canada. This is in addition to Lyme disease and tick-borne disease investments made by other federal departments, like CIHR and Parks Canada.
A few key areas where the Government of Canada has been working with partners on Lyme disease include an enhanced surveillance program with provinces to collect more detailed and timely information on cases of Lyme disease; researching tick-borne diseases and providing reference laboratory testing for provinces and territories by our national microbiology laboratory; increasing awareness among Canadians on how to protect themselves and their families; and providing information to health care providers to support early identification and diagnosis of Lyme disease.
Emerging vector-borne diseases are and will continue to be a public health concern for Canadians. The prevention and control of vector-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, requires collaboration among all levels of government and non-governmental organizations.
As guided by the provisions of the Canada Health Act, provinces and territories are primarily responsible for the delivery of both direct health care services and local public health activities. Provincial and territorial public health authorities and indigenous public health authorities also undertake prevention and control activities specific to their own jurisdictions.
The framework is accompanied by a federal action plan on Lyme disease. This action plan identifies three areas for concrete action. Under the first pillar of surveillance, we will be exploring the costs associated with this disease. We will also be working with partners to establish a tick-borne surveillance system for Lyme disease and possible co-infections.
Under the second pillar of education and awareness, we recognize that clinicians can't diagnose what they don't know exists. So one of our main goals is to get the message out to health care professionals that Lyme disease is here. We will work with partners to educate health professionals on the symptoms and support them in their ability to diagnose and report cases.
As such, our action plan commits to deliver national education and awareness campaigns, so as to remedy the lack of communication regarding prevention and intervention.
Under the third and last pillar of guidelines and best practices, we recognize that the federal framework on Lyme disease does not address treatment guidelines. Clinical diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease fall under the purview of professional associations representing front-line health care practitioners. We have committed to working collectively to strengthen evidence-based approaches through further research.
On May 30, 2017, as part of the budget 2017 investment under the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, the Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, announced a joint effort between the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to establish a Lyme disease research network. Investing up to $4 million in new funding, the objective of this research network will be to generate new knowledge in an effort to improve diagnosis and treatment.
The Government of Canada will also continue to support front-line health professionals and provincial laboratories through the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network in the laboratory diagnosis of Lyme disease. All partners, including provincial and territorial health care regulatory authorities, will be consulted on innovative, evidence-based approaches to address the needs of patients.
The Public Health Agency of Canada will work with public health authorities, health care professionals, patient groups and other interested parties as we move forward together on all three areas of action.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that Lyme disease is a reality in Canada. Its effective prevention and control requires a coordinated multi-partner and stakeholder engagement approach. Through our collective efforts, Canadians will be more aware of the disease and recognize its symptoms.
As the interim chief public health officer indicated in the framework, “We will accomplish much by working together in a collaborative manner to identify and implement the solutions.”
Thank you very much for your time.