Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. I have listened all morning to members speak about the gun registry. I must go to the public accounts committee in 20 minutes which will be dealing with guns, the Auditor General, et cetera. Therefore, I will speak about chapter 2 of the Auditor General's report, not chapter 10. Chapter 2 concerns Health Canada and national health surveillance activities. I suggest that it will be more interesting than gun control.
Overall, this chapter acknowledges the progress made in a number of important areas over the last three years. The Auditor General found that Health Canada had improved disease surveillance in a number of areas including HIV, food-borne and water-borne diseases and influenza.
I will first give a little background on surveillance. Health surveillance is the collection of information generated by the health care system, an analysis of that information to determine trends in diseases or causes of disease across time and place, and to forecast what may happen in the future. We can think of Walkerton, labelling on food containers, and a number of other things.
This information can be used in the short term perhaps to recall a food product or drug or, in the longer term, perhaps to plan health care programs to meet the needs of the future. Surveillance may also give clues concerning the nature and causes of diseases--ideas which can be investigated further by health research.
The vital importance of health surveillance in providing the information needed by public health professionals and decision-makers is readily apparent. It provides much of the information needed to inform policy decisions, to plan health programs, and to take regulatory action to manage risks and protect the health of Canadians.
This is not something that the public necessarily sees every day and it is perhaps something that we may sometimes be tempted to take for granted, but a moment's thought will reveal just how important this role is.
Canadians rightly expect that governments are standing on guard to preserve their health and the government takes that responsibility very seriously. Not only does Health Canada maintain national surveillance in a wide range of infectious diseases such as meningitis, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, food and water-borne infections, as in Walkerton, but it also stands ready to monitor new threats as they emerge.
For example, it has initiated surveillance of West Nile virus and new variant CJD or mad cow disease, and continues to monitor the growth of the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.
Health Canada also monitors the safety of regulated products including drugs and vaccines, as well as injuries which require care in hospital emergency departments. There is also considerable effort spent in the surveillance of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The list of conditions under surveillance also includes child abuse and neglect.
I would like to bring to the attention of the House that since 2000 Health Canada has created a single focal point to help advance its work in health surveillance which is the centre for surveillance coordination. The centre is a national centre of leadership, expertise and excellence in health surveillance. Working with others in Health Canada it ensures the coordination of national surveillance that allows it to gather and share information more efficiently with our partners including the provinces and territories. The centre for surveillance coordination, in collaboration with public health stakeholders, aims to increase the capacity of public health professionals and decision-makers across Canada to better protect the health of Canadians.
National health surveillance is a shared activity. Health Canada works in partnership with the provinces and territories as well as other partners such as voluntary agencies, professional associations and universities on national health surveillance issues.
Health Canada is proud of the work that it is doing with the provinces and territories on national health surveillance and will continue to work with them to enhance surveillance systems which are constantly evolving.
An excellent example of this work is the Canadian integrated public health surveillance system or CIPHS, which has been developed by Health Canada in collaboration with the British Columbia centre for disease control and now being piloted or scheduled to be piloted in no fewer than nine provinces and territories. It would drastically improve the speed and ease of the surveillance of infectious diseases by linking laboratories and front line public health workers at local, provincial, territorial and national levels. In her report, the Auditor General recognized the contribution that the Canadian integrated public health surveillance system would make to the surveillance of infectious diseases.
Another example of the innovative work being done in Health Canada is the global public health intelligence network or GPHIN. This system scans news sources for reports of disease outbreaks and collates and transmits them to public health officials. This not only gives us information on health threats which may be imported into Canada or pose a threat to Canadians abroad, but it is also a significant Canadian contribution to the work of the World Health Organization.
I want to assure the House that we have taken the recommendations made by the Auditor General seriously. A national approach to health surveillance that will ensure that weaknesses and gaps in health surveillance are addressed is set out in a document entitled “Canadian Health Infostructure Health Surveillance Tactical Plan”.
We will continue to work with the provinces and territories to obtain further agreements on the sharing of disease information including agreement on data collection, data dissemination, data standards, and the list of diseases that should be reported nationally, as well as developing an evaluation framework.
Finally, Health Canada is developing a distance learning approach to help its partners increase their skills in the scientific disciplines necessary for the operation of surveillance systems. We will continue to enhance current surveillance of communicable diseases, with emphasis on specific diseases such as HIV, enteric diseases, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne pathogens and vaccine preventable diseases.
To illustrate how this commitment continues, let me point out that the recent federal budget provided funding for a national immunization strategy and that this included continuing work on the surveillance of vaccine coverage, vaccine preventable diseases and vaccine side-effects.
We have surveillance systems for chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes at various levels of maturity and in collaboration with the provinces and territories, and others, we will continue to work addressing specific gaps such as cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease.
As an example of federal, provincial and territorial collaboration deputy ministers of health have asked for a task force on the surveillance of chronic disease risk factors and Health Canada will be participating fully with its provincial and territorial partners in strengthening the surveillance of chronic disease.
In summary, we have here an issue of the utmost importance to the health of Canadians. The Government of Canada is playing a leadership role in ensuring that governments across Canada improve their ability to track and monitor diseases and to have the information they need about emerging threats to health.
This is a considerable challenge at the technical level but there is a commitment to a collaborative approach to strengthening our capacity to gather the information needed to protect the health of Canadians. The Auditor General has recognized the progress we have made, with HIV-AIDS, diabetes and others, and there are other enhancements under development.