Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer my thoughts on Bill C-442. The subject is a national Lyme disease strategy.
I am very pleased to second the adoption of this bill by Parliament to address the urgent needs of victims of this disease. I congratulate the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for this initiative. I totally support the important principle of this bill and our government's efforts to amend the legislation at the health committee, of which I am a member.
As my colleagues on both sides of the House have recognized, Lyme disease is an emerging infectious disease in Canada. It is caused by a bacterium transmitted by ticks, now increasingly found in southern Canada, including in the greater Toronto area.
Like the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, I have a friend who suffers from Lyme disease. In 2006, I received a call from my long-time friend, Janet Mitchell, a former Oakville town councillor, who had recently, after years of confusion and misdiagnosis, been diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Janet told me a hair-raising story. She had in previous years lost the feeling in and control of her lower extremities and had difficulty walking. She was naturally deeply engaged with and worried about what was happening. She had great trouble getting up and down steps and ended up using a walker to get around. She and her husband had to move to a condominium that had no steps. She had a fear that she would end up needing a wheelchair due to a disease that she had previously never even heard of.
Then Janet told me that she had heard that her condition could have come from the bite of an insect, which is very frightening. A deer tick had bitten Janet, and unlike most victims of such bites, she did not develop a visible target-like rash, so she had never noticed. This is not that rare. That tick had deposited a kind of poison in her bloodstream, bacteria that over time can hide in the human body and cause those symptoms. It finds places in our joints and elsewhere where antibiotics cannot easily reach. It is like a scary movie.
Reported Lyme disease cases in Canada increased from 30 in 2003 to over 300 in 2012, and these numbers are expected to rise even further as ticks responsible for Lyme disease move into Canada's most densely populated areas. These numbers will also rise as conditions thought to be something else or diagnosed to be something else are increasingly correctly diagnosed as Lyme disease. Indeed, based on current rates in the U.S., Canada is likely to experience a marked increase in Lyme disease cases in the coming 10 years. Some estimates report that by 2020, the economic cost of reported Lyme disease cases in Canada could reach $8 million annually, for cases diagnosed early, in medical costs alone.
Being from Oakville, in southern Ontario, I understand that it is my part of the country that will most likely see the sharpest spike in Lyme disease cases over the next decade. That is why it is so important to my constituents that we address this issue sooner rather than later, and it is why I thank Janet Mitchell for educating me about this nasty and insidious disease.
These unsettling statistics are some of the chief reasons I am supportive of this legislation before the House today and why I have also been pleased to hear of our government's work in addressing Lyme disease. In recent years, our government has committed to working with the provinces and territories to address these risks to Canadians. The Public Health Agency of Canada has undertaken enhanced stakeholder engagement, public and clinical education, enhanced surveillance, and research to improve diagnostic integrity, which is one of the key problems.
The Public Health Agency's work has focused on surveillance, prevention, and control as the first step. The second step is research and diagnosis, and the third step is engagement, education, and awareness. This work has demonstrated positive first steps to address an emerging yet serious disease, and Bill C-442 promises to further add to this drive. Additionally, our government has devoted funding dollars in support of Lyme disease research, primarily through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Indeed, since 2006, we have invested approximately $4.6 million in Lyme disease research.
Our government has also been diligently working in concert with the provinces and territories on surveillance and on prevention and control activities. Provinces and territories report Lyme disease as a national reportable disease, and these data are contributing to the Public Health Agency of Canada's ability to monitor and report on the disease's progress.
Of course, the reality is why I am supportive of our government's proposed amendments to the bill, as outlined in the above facts.
Janet Mitchell was originally told by her doctor that she had MS, a disease that is somewhat more common in Canada than in other countries. She was told, like many others across Canada, that she could not possibly have Lyme disease, because we do not have Lyme disease in Canada. That was the best diagnosis she could get at the time. I shudder to think of how frightening that false diagnosis would have been for her and other Canadians who may have been diagnosed in a similar way.
However, Janet studied her condition on her own. She had spent a lot of time camping and hiking. Absent a visible rash, she had all the described symptoms of Lyme disease she found on the Internet. Janet found a new doctor, who advised her that the only test done in Ontario was not that reliable. She paid to have her own blood sample sent to the U.S. for a test called IGeneX, otherwise referred to as Western Blot, which is far more reliable. That test told her that she had the Lyme spirochete in her bloodstream. She had Lyme disease.
The theory that we do not have Lyme disease in Canada was actually never really true. We just did not have very much of it. Yet our specialists misdiagnosed many Canadians with Lyme disease as having other conditions, preventing them from getting the treatment they needed, as if deer and birds do not cross international borders, because both carry the ticks.
If caught early, Lyme disease can be cured. The bacteria can be eliminated with common antibiotics like erythromycin. However, once the spirochetes invade the cells, it is difficult to kill them, requiring, in some cases, months of treatment with more powerful antibiotics. An early and accurate diagnosis is key.
It is clearly important to respond to emerging diseases such as Lyme, but as the federal government, we still maintain the responsibility to respect jurisdictional boundaries, especially with regard to health care.
I have been very pleased to see that our government has been delivering historic funding dollars in support of health care to be delivered by the provinces and territories. They are projected to reach $40 billion annually by the end of the decade, which is, of course, a new record.
Provinces and territories are responsible for health care delivery, and it is important that the bill reflect that reality. At the federal level, we do our part by supporting research and sharing best practices across jurisdictions. Indeed, we are the single largest investor in health research, with support of nearly $1 billion annually. These research dollars will deliver the resources necessary to support medical experts in developing the research necessary to adequately respond to new and emerging diseases.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Health and very much look forward to further review of Bill C-442 when it is referred to us in the coming months.
In the course of the committee's work, I hope to hear from various stakeholder groups on the current and possible future impacts of Lyme disease, not the least of which will be medical experts on the subject. Their input will help contribute to the committee's understanding of this emerging disease and further inform our work going forward.
I would be pleased to work with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands on the bill, which promises to further build upon the good work our government has been doing to address Lyme disease in Canada. I think her commitment to this evolving issue and her willingness to work with our government demonstrates a spirit of co-operation that will be important going forward.
As we look to proceed on the bill at its current stage, I anticipate a good and full discussion on its merits and on ways it can be further improved.
I thank my hon. colleagues from all parties for their attention, and I urge them to support Bill C-442 at this stage so that we may work to improve its recognition of jurisdictional responsibilities and the proper role the federal government plays in addressing emerging diseases.
I look forward to the health committee's proceedings on the bill and the testimony we will hear on the subject of Lyme disease.