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View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
Good afternoon everyone. It's my pleasure to be here with you once again.
With me today from Health Canada are Morris Rosenberg, Deputy Minister, and Alfred Tsang, chief financial officer. As well, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, we have Dr. David Butler-Jones, chief public health officer, and Jim Libbey, the chief financial officer.
This has been an extraordinary year for the health portfolio. Since I appeared before you on the main estimates in May, we have been moving forward with many important improvements to our tobacco laws, Bill C-32, and our consumer protection legislation, Bill C-6, while dealing with an emerging influenza pandemic.
Since May, we have also developed and made investments in improving protections against food-borne illnesses in response to all 57 recommendations made by independent investigator Sheila Weatherill.
Collaborations with the provinces and territories, as well as first nations communities, have been of primary importance. International discussions and information-sharing have proved to be fruitful and, in the case of the H1N1 pandemic, have helped in our success.
We are now in the middle of the largest vaccination campaign in this country's history. It is one that could only have been undertaken with the unprecedented level of cooperation we have seen between all levels of government. We have kept close contact with the World Health Organization and other international partners. Here at home, we have maintained an open line of communication with provincial and territorial governments with respect to the H1N1 virus.
From a national perspective, the vaccination program is progressing very well. From our largest urban centres to small, isolated communities, the vaccine is getting to those who want it and need it. This is the sixth week of the campaign, and more than 20 million doses have been made available to Canadians so far. We are well on our way to having enough vaccine for everyone who wants it by Christmas. I would again like to express my appreciation to the provinces, territories, and all the front line workers who are vaccinating thousands of Canadians every day.
We were able to approve a safe and effective vaccine thanks to the unprecedented level of collaboration among international regulators. This collaboration started a few years ago, and Canada has been an active participant. In fact, the key Canadian contribution occurred in the spring, when public health scientists helped identify the strain of the new virus.
Our work with the H1N1 pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to learn. A better understanding of this flu has allowed us to acquire the wisdom and knowledge to respond to the illness if a third wave comes. It will also provide us with experience and guidance for the future, if needed.
Our work on this is ongoing. That is why the Canadian Institutes of Health Research announced support for five new research projects designed to help further understand and address the H1N1 flu virus. We are already a global leader in H1N1 flu virus research. The new research being funded will help ensure that our knowledge, approach, and planning remains amongst the best in the world.
Canadian scientists will try to understand, among other things, why the virus causes some patients to develop serious respiratory illnesses. Another team will study the impact of the virus on pregnant women and try to determine why some develop complications. Another group will study the impact this pandemic is having on health care resources.
Our goal is to learn as much as we can while this virus is having its greatest impact. That kind of learning experience will guide our response to future pandemics. This pandemic is unique because we continue to learn about it the longer it is around. Obviously, we want to keep ahead of it as it continues to circulate through the country and the globe.
Earlier this year, when the illness had spread in some isolated first nations communities, we addressed the vulnerability of the hundreds of remote and isolated communities throughout the country. Ever since that first wave, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency have been helping first nations prepare for the second wave. Being from a remote community, I know so well the challenges these regions face with health issues.
A federal-provincial-territorial working group was created at the outset of the pandemic to address issues specific to isolated and remote communities. I also appointed Dr. Paul Gully, who provided the much needed support and link between the first nations communities and our offices.
By October 23 more than 95% of first nations communities had pandemic plans in place. First nations had been sent supplies needed to deal with a pandemic, and antiviral medications had already been shipped to strategic locations for easy distribution. A plan was also in place to reallocate nursing staff to facilitate vaccine rollout.
As testimony to our efforts, I have provided you with the video of my visit to the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. This community was thoroughly prepared for the second wave of the virus. During my visit I met community leaders who embraced the challenge of getting their friends, family, and neighbours prepared.
The success of the preparations in Cowessess and hundreds of other communities just like it is due to the collaboration between the federal government and first nations. Many small communities were hit by the virus during the first wave, and the lessons learned during the first outbreak enhanced our preparations for the second wave.
Within three days of the approval of the vaccine, teams of health care workers flew to remote communities to vaccinate everyone who wanted to be vaccinated. The response was very high. Clearly, our message regarding the importance and safety of the vaccine had been effectively communicated.
I also signed a communications protocol with the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Chuck Strahl, and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo. That protocol was and continues to be a commitment to share information with first nations in a timely way.
Our first initiative under that protocol was to host a virtual summit to share important information about H1N1.
Preparations for the second wave in first nations were guided by annex B of the Canadian pandemic influenza plan, which had been adjusted to incorporate lessons learned during the first wave.
While flu activity has levelled off in some parts of the country, we continue to roll out our vaccine, inform Canadians, and remain vigilant in the event of a third wave of the H1N1 virus. We'll also continue the process of broadening our pandemic planning and make specific plans on how we will deal with future health concerns. This has been the first real test of our Canadian pandemic influenza plan, and, as I mentioned earlier, our biggest vaccination program.
While the H1N1 virus has dominated the health agenda since April, the other business of the health portfolio has kept moving forward.
With your cooperation we have passed Bill C-32, the Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act. This legislation will protect children from tobacco marketing practices designed to entice young people to smoke. As well, by the banning of flavours and additives and by instituting minimum package sizes, the appeal of these products to children and youth is greatly reduced.
Bill C-6, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, is now before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. In fact, senators are engaged in clause-by-clause consideration of this bill right now, as I speak to you. The proposed legislation would better protect Canadian families from dangerous consumer products. It would allow for much needed product recalls and mandatory reporting. In short, it will give the government the necessary tools to act in a timely and consistent manner to protect Canadians against unsafe consumer products. This is so important, particularly at this time of year when many parents are shopping for Christmas gifts. Parents need to know that the gifts they put under their Christmas trees are safe for their children.
I applaud this committee for recognizing the importance of this long overdue bill and for its timely yet diligent scrutiny of Bill C-6. I urge the Senate to follow suit and pass the legislation without delay. I hope they will be inspired by my encouragements today.
Another major issue for the health portfolio has been the global shortage of medical isotopes since the shutdown of the reactor at Chalk River. The impact of the shortage has been managed here in Canada because the lessons learned during the shutdown at Chalk River were used to develop contingency plans. These plans are now helping medical staff cope with the shortage.
The research for alternatives and the methods of dealing with the shortage had been well under way long before Chalk River went down. We have been able to cope with the shortage through cooperation with the provinces and the territories. The impact of the shortage has been mitigated by the hard work and dedication of the nuclear medicine community. With alternative solutions, however, patients ultimately receive the diagnostic scans they need.
In 2009 we also took actions to strengthen Canada's food safety system. In partnership with the Minister of Agrigulture, Gerry Ritz, I announced that the government will invest $75 million in Canada's food safety system in response to the recommendations made by independent investigator Sheila Weatherill. Those new investments will improve our ability to prevent, detect, and respond to future outbreaks of foodborne illness. The investments will mean expanded listeria testing, more inspectors, and better surveillance and communication. In the months ahead we must remain vigilant and adapt quickly.
Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to address you today. My experience as federal Minister of Health has been extremely rewarding. I have been given the opportunity to travel and meet with Canadians from across the country. I work with intelligent, determined, and thoughtful individuals who have the same care for the well-being of Canadians that I do. It is truly a privilege to be here on their behalf.
Thank you.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
In my view, the rollout of the pandemic plan has gone very well in Canada. Canada has been seen as a world leader in responding to this pandemic. I said in my opening comments that the success of how we rolled out the pandemic plan in this country comes from years of planning. At the same time, with the cooperation of the provinces and territories, we've done very well in addressing the rollout of the vaccines in provinces and territories.
We continue to work with them. We are in weekly contact with the provinces and territories, and I can say that the contingency and investments that were made in Canada--the billions of dollars that were invested--were rolled out. The communications, antivirals, enhanced emergency response, and surveillance of the outbreaks were also investments that were made. I can say that there were no cuts to that funding that the member makes reference to.
We will continue to work with the provinces and territories in the rollout and evaluate how we've done once we get through this pandemic.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
I can answer that question now.
The response is that we have assisted provinces financially in response to this pandemic. We've covered 60% of the vaccine, we've invested $1 billion to position Canada to respond to a pandemic, and we will continue to work in partnership with the provinces.
In addition to that, this year our government has transferred $24 billion under the Canada Health Act. This new year, under the health transfers, that will increase by another 6%. Canada's health ministers in provinces can invest—
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
They can invest that money as they see fit in the delivery of health care, as they are responsible for the delivery of health care.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
Part of managing a pandemic is ensuring that there is accurate information getting to Canadians. It's one of the most challenging parts of managing a pandemic, to manage the misinformation that is out there and to ensure that Canadians have the right information to make important decisions on what to do to prevent the spread of H1N1. We will continue to communicate with Canadians through print, radio, and television ads, with toll-free numbers and so on.
On the issue in terms of how much we've invested, it is more than the $4 million you make reference to. Each province and territory has been communicating with its population through its health care system as well. This is a joint initiative. Part of the investments we made in the $1 billion was also funding to put communications strategies in place across the country, as well as the surveillance system. To date, we've invested over $30 million in communicating on behalf of the provinces and the territories in response to this pandemic.
Thank you.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
I said earlier that communicating with Canadians has been probably the most challenging part of managing this pandemic. It was very important to ensure that the information getting to Canadians was the most current and accurate and based on science. Since April I've had over fifty press conferences with Canada to keep Canadians informed as we learned about H1N1, and we will continue to communicate to Canadians what we've been dealing with. That will continue on through Christmas and into the new year, because we're not over the pandemic situation. Provinces and territories have also stepped up to the plate in communicating with their populations the importance of getting the vaccine.
As information or misinformation goes out into the general population, of course it's going to cost us more money to respond to make sure that Canada and Canadians get the right information about the safety of the vaccine, the importance of washing your hands, what to do when you're sick, and the importance of the vaccine. The challenge is to manage the number of organizations and individuals out there that may not necessarily have the right information. So keeping up with that has been the biggest challenge of managing a pandemic. We will continue to go out there to inform Canadians of the facts based on science, as we deal with this peak and possibly third wave of the pandemic.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Most jurisdictions that delivered health care before the pandemic were already doing this. It is important to communicate with the population you provide services to. It's not just during a pandemic that information on important health issues is communicated to Canadians.
I have a list here on a number of the provinces. There are 19 languages in Ontario. In Manitoba, there are about 15. Nunavut has four official languages. This is an ongoing issue, and I have every confidence in the translators in those jurisdictions to translate the medical information we produce into the appropriate languages. That is their profession.
I can say that Inuktitut translators do a fantastic job of translating medical terms for the population they provide services to; this is part of providing services to individuals within their own province. In Nunavut, for example, we have four official languages--English, French, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun--and information is made available by the territorial health department. The Northwest Territories has nine official languages, and so on. So it will vary by jurisdiction.
It's not just about doing this in a pandemic. You need to continue, through public health, to communicate important public health messages, and that is a common practice throughout the country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We recognize the challenge that has arisen as a result of the shutdown of Chalk River, which is an ongoing situation. We continue to work with the provinces and territories as well as the medical community in that area. I believe Dr. McEwan appeared before HESA to give the committee an update in regard to what the medical community on nuclear medicine was actually doing to mitigate the impact of the shortage of Tc-99.
From the original shutdown, there had been lessons learned that prepared us across the country to come up with a contingency plan to mitigate it, to identify alternatives to Tc-99 in the research community, and to invest in research where we can look at alternatives. That is ongoing. The work did not just start when this situation occurred. It started years before, when there was a shutdown, and there were lessons learned from that. We'll continue to work with Dr. Sandy McEwan along with other jurisdictions on that subject.
As far as the dollars involved go, some provinces have put forth a request in regard to that. Some provinces are doing better than others. Provinces that have put in triage alternatives for dealing with cancer patients have managed much better than jurisdictions that have not diversified their supply. We continue to work with the provinces and territories to encourage them to look at alternatives to mitigate the impact of the shutdown and the shortage of the supply.
In terms of the dollar value of the additional costs incurred, I have not received the actual breakdown of what jurisdictions have actually incurred while trying to mitigate the impact of the shutdown, and what it would cost if it happened again. What they have done to mitigate it is a big question for every jurisdiction to answer. Dr. McEwan has been working with each jurisdiction to assist it to put those plans in place.
Having said that, I will say again that we continue to increase the transfers to the provinces and the territories. This year we have transferred $24 billion to the provinces. Each province, respecting that it is responsible for the delivery of its health care, allocates and invests those moneys where it sees fit. That could be related to looking at different types of Tc-99 or alternative purchases. It's up to each province to invest its resources where it sees they are most needed. That applies to Quebec as well.
Thank you.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, what I've said to the provinces is that I will sit down with each province and have a discussion in regard to what that means. We've received some preliminary figures from provinces, but in terms of the concrete dollar value and a list of the additional resources each province or territory incurred as a result of this, I have not received that from the provinces and territories. I have committed to working with the provinces and territories to look at alternatives. We've invested $6 million in research to look at an alternative supply to Tc-99, which will benefit provinces and territories in managing the Tc-99 shortage across the country. This is an investment we have put forward.
In terms of the day-to-day delivery, we have received estimates but not concrete dollars from, I'd say, one jurisdiction.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
I can say that about 76% of product licence applications have been completed. We still are working towards the deadline we had set forward, which is, I believe, next March, in 2010.
Health Canada's priority is, again, to protect and promote the health and safety of Canadians. The natural health regulations were developed with extensive consultations with stakeholders and the Canadian public. But the update I have in terms of where we are at with this is that of the 17,000 applications that have been assessed...resulting in 22,000 products, with a full range of health claims, becoming accessible to Canadians.
So we have completed 76%, and we will continue to target to meet the backlog for March 31, 2010.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you.
I made reference to GSK because you asked how much profit had been made. But we're not the only customer of GSK.
In terms of what we—
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Yes, before you made reference to the federal government, I—
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Well, that was pretty obvious.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
I just wanted to clarify my response to the member as to why I said GSK.
I'm going to pass it over to Dr. David Butler-Jones, who will speak to what we are paying for the vaccine production in this country.
View Leona Aglukkaq Profile
CPC (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would say again that Canada has done very well in responding to the pandemic in partnership with the provinces and territories. I cannot state that enough to Canadians. The success of how we've responded to this is a cooperation with the provinces and the territories, and I was the contact with them.
With regard to what we've invested, we've invested not only in 60% of the cost of the vaccine, but also in antivirals, in communication, in surveillance, in research. There are a number of investments that this government has made in response to this pandemic.
I also said to the provinces and territories, when we met in September in Winnipeg, that we will come back to the table to have a discussion, to evaluate how we are doing with the pandemic, what we learned from the pandemic, and what costs were incurred in the pandemic. But to make that commitment before we deal with this pandemic would not give you the accurate information that you would need to make a sound decision on what to do.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Okay. Fair enough.
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq: You cannot anticipate dollar values for something whose magnitude you don't know. The provinces and territories have agreed to that, and I will say that.
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