It’s been more than 200 days since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic officially over. While many people would like to put it behind them and forget what happened, there continues to be a significant amount of time and energy devoted to reviewing the pandemic response and preparing for the next inevitable disease outbreak.
Across the country, health care providers are sharing lessons learned and best practices; epidemic response protocols are being reviewed and revised; and public awareness campaigns are being analyzed and revamped. PEI is no exception.
With the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness on December 27, PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer (CHPO) Dr. Heather Morrison says now is a good time for reflection.
“Even though we may want to forget, we do need to acknowledge what we went through as a society and as health care workers during the pandemic. Also, whether we want to or not, we need to think about what we need to do to prepare for the next time.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, recently released a report on the state of public health in Canada titled, “Creating Conditions for Resilient Communities: A Public Health Approach to Emergencies.” The report outlines tangible actions to bring health promotion into emergency management policies and practice.
“My report calls for us to reflect on and reset how we think about emergencies,” said Dr. Tam in a written statement. “We need to look beyond the immediate response and work on the foundational conditions that keep our communities healthy and strong. By taking a public health approach to emergencies, guided by health promotion and equity, we can create the conditions for resilient communities. When communities are more resilient, we are better equipped to prevent, withstand, and recover from emergencies.”
PEI is participating in a public health data working group, which has a focus on how to make Islanders healthier and, therefore, more resilient in an epidemic. Dr. Morrison said two-thirds of PEI’s chronic diseases relate to risk factors. A renewed focus on reducing those risk factors will improve chronic disease rates.
“Early indicator and early disease surveillance is important and that’s one thing that’s being looked at, along with governance framework for emergency response at both the provincial and national level; but a large part of what we’re doing is focusing on improving Islanders’ health,” Dr. Morrison said. “Improving chronic disease rates means we can all be healthier, ready and more resilient for the next time. This means reducing the number of people who smoke in PEI, for example. Another example is our recently announced campaign, ‘Less is Best’ which is about reducing alcohol intake. Increasing physical activity, healthy eating, and mental health resilience are all big pillars around the risk factors that we’re working on. Health care providers will hear more about this in the months ahead.”
Recognizing that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interdependent, a focus on One Health and collaboration, communication and coordination between the relevant sectors is an essential component of pandemic preparedness. PEI’s interdepartmental One Health Steering Committee and One Health Discussion Group are examples of collaboration and information sharing with the purpose of anticipating and addressing the joint challenges facing the health of people, domestic animals, fish and wildlife in PEI.
Along with the actions outlined in the national CHPO report and the efforts of the federal, provincial and territorial Public Health Data Working Group, the development of a new Canadian pandemic preparedness guide is underway, which Dr. Morrison says PEI will adopt when it is ready. While all of this effort is important to improving the Island’s ability to weather another pandemic, Dr. Morrison said it’s also crucial to look at the healthcare system itself and address the challenges that were highlighted during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Everyone in healthcare is exhausted and it’s going to take a long time to move forward and really recover. There are major staffing issues and we’re still working on our ability to provide better access to patients so they can see the right provider at the right time. Addressing this needs to happen in tandem with improving Islanders’ health resiliency,” Dr. Morrison said. “The International Day of Epidemic Preparedness serves as a reminder of this ongoing work, but also of the impacts of COVID-19 personally and professionally. We just came through the biggest pandemic in 100 years. I’m filled with gratitude and thanks every day for the work of my colleagues across the Island, and I know we are all working together to get to a point where we can put our heads on our pillows at the end of the day knowing we’ve done as much as we can—and as best we can—to protect, promote, and prevent disease here on PEI.”
More information on the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness
More information on the 2023 state of public health report