Madam Speaker, Canada missed an important opportunity to make a positive contribution on the international stage during the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health, which took place in Brazil from October 19 to 21. In fact, the Minister of Health did not believe it was necessary to participate in this event, where 118 countries came together to establish an action plan.
Nevertheless, in Canada, 20% of health care expenditures are attributable to social issues that affect health, such as homelessness and unemployment. When I asked the minister to explain why she did not attend this important meeting, she was unable to provide an answer. Finally, she responded that she was attending other international meetings.
Clearly, the minister was completely unaware of this conference on the social determinants of health or it was not one of the priorities of the Conservative government, which has demonstrated a complete lack of leadership on this issue. I will explain why this conference should have been a priority for Canada. First, according to the World Health Organization:
The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system.
These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices.
The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities—the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen between industrialized and the least fortunate countries and even within industrialized countries. Canada, which is part of the G8, should thus have been concerned about this issue and participated in this meeting.
From what I know, even here in Canada, people are still suffering as a result of poverty, social exclusion, stress, unemployment, homelessness and malnourishment, just to name a few of the most important social determinants of health. Here are a few concrete examples of the direct impact these social determinants can have on health.
According to a 2003 WHO study by Wilkinson and Marmot, those living on the streets suffer the highest rates of premature death. Homelessness is still a relevant issue these days, as was highlighted during the 22nd edition of the Nuit des sans-abri on October 21, 2011, in Quebec. Do my colleagues know that it costs the Quebec health care system about $24,000 to take care of a homeless person, whereas if community services received adequate funding to fight homelessness, it would cost the federal government half as much? I think that some strategic choices need to be made.
In 2004, the Canadian Institute of Child Health stated that the lower the household income, the higher the incidence of emotional and behavioural problems in childhood. As a teacher who worked in a disadvantaged area, I can confirm that children who grow up in an unsafe environment with low levels of stimulation are unfortunately more affected by learning difficulties and behavioural problems. There are plenty of studies to corroborate that.
More recently, a number of health care experts testified before the Standing Committee on Health, and they all agreed that seniors who are isolated are more likely to develop mental health problems. They also said that low-income seniors are not able to buy fruits and vegetables, which are a nutrition staple, and that this often leads to problems. Those are just a few examples.
Every day, 21,000 children in the world die before their 5th birthday. All of these alarming facts and figures are from the WHO.
If health is one of this government's priorities, why was it missing in action in Brazil?