The average lifespan of Canadians has increased by more than 30 years since the early 1900s, and 25 of those years are attributable to advances in public health. Here’s a short list of just some of the things for which public health is responsible in your community, every day:
• Control of infectious diseases
• Healthier environments
• Motor-vehicle safety
• Safer and healthier food
• Family planning and healthier mothers and babies
• Safer workplaces
All of these initiatives are undertaken with relatively small investments and provide all of us with enormous returns. For example, every $1 invested in:
• Immunizing children with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine saves $16 in health care costs
• Car and booster seats saves $40 in avoided medical costs
• Workplace healthy and safety programs returns up to $6 in avoided illnesses, injuries and fatalities
• Introducing cleaner vehicles and fuels to reduce air pollution, saves $4 in avoided health problems
• Fluoridated drinking water results in $38 saved in dental care
• Tobacco prevention programs saves up to $20 in future health care costs
• Mental health and addictions saves $7 in health costs and $30 in lost productivity and social costs
• Early childhood development and health care saves up to $9 in future spending on health, social and justice services
Public health activities also reduce pressures on the healthcare system. We have seen decreased suffering and costs due to illness, and the improvement of our society and economy because, relative to many other nations, we have a healthy population.
So where does the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) come into all of this? We were founded in 1910 by a small group of doctors who were distressed about the state of public health at a time when smallpox, yellow fever, and typhoid were running rampant. They were dedicated to changing public policies so that disease could be prevented and the overall health and well-being of Canadians can be improved.
And after 105 years, this continues to hold true. We are still a voluntary association and our members are all passionately dedicated to making our country, and our world, a healthier and more just place to live.
What has changed is where we focus our attention and the specific policy challenges we address. A century ago, clean drinking water and the appropriate treatment of sewage were at the top of the list. (Sadly, in some parts of our country, this is still the challenge.) Over the past few years, however, CPHA has provided evidence-based policy alternatives on a wide range of topics, including:
• A public health approach to alcohol policy
• Ending tobacco use
• Managing illegal psychoactive substances
• Murdered and missing Indigenous women
• Sex work
In the current environment, it is essential that organizations like CPHA continue to put forward policy alternatives that are firmly based on current evidence.
In addition to these exciting policy alternatives, we continue to work on consumer-based health interventions that can contribute to the health of Canadians. One such example is ImmunizeCA, a free mobile app that helps Canadians keep track of their vaccinations. ImmunizeCA provides 24/7 access to vaccination schedules based on information specific to people’s home province or territory, and to reliable, expert-approved, bilingual information about vaccinations for children, adults and travelers. It also offers useful tools such as appointment reminders and local outbreak notifications.
CPHA also has a long and recognized history of work on the social determinants of health. We are proud of this legacy and our hope is to create a discussion around the social determinants of health both within the public health community as well as with the public, as a means of moving the social determinants of health agenda forward with political leaders and decision-makers in other sectors.
In recent years, public health has expanded its scope to address the health implications of the built environment. Now we need to deepen and broaden our analysis, acknowledging that we live 100 percent of the time on a small planet and within natural ecosystems that constitute the ecological determinants of health.
The field of public health is extremely broad and involves multiple sectors and actors. Being the independent voice of public health at the national level comes with its challenges and at a price. As CPHA embarks on its second century of service to Canadians, we look to the broader public health community as well as corporate partners to join us in creating healthier communities across this country and around the world.
Founded in 1910, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) is the independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. As the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health, CPHA is uniquely positioned to advise decision-makers about public health system reform and to guide initiatives to help safeguard the personal and community health of Canadians and people around the world.
CPHA is a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association. CPHA’s members believe in universal and equitable access to the basic conditions which are necessary to achieve health for all.
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