Image source: Public Health Agency of Canada
From risk to resilience: An equity approach to COVID-19
AUTHORS Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
This year’s annual report describes the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadian society, both directly and through the steps taken to mitigate its effect. The aim of this report is to suggest opportunities to build on this collaboration to strengthen our nation’s preparedness for future public health emergencies. This report draws on previous work, which demonstrates that the health of Canadians is dependent on a set of fundamental social determinants. COVID-19 has underscored the inequities in health that are shaped by these determinants, highlighted how these inequities may be exacerbated in the context of a pandemic, and shown how they can aggravate and prolong the spread of disease, making the pandemic worse.
How does this research apply to my work?
As a service provider, it is important to recognize the unique ways that immigrant and refugee populations are being impacted by COVID-19. For instance, research has found that workers in low-income occupations are working in jobs that put them at greater risk; this is particularly true for women, immigrants, and racialized workers. Research also shows that certain populations are more likely to experience overcrowding in households – one influencing factor is newcomer status. In addition, access to healthcare for certain populations, such as immigrants, is identified as a challenge which may lead to greater exposure and susceptibility to COVID-19. Being aware of these findings, which are compounded by many other factors such as discrimination, is important when providing settlement and mental health supports to newcomers during a pandemic.
What should I take away from this research?
There are areas of collaborative and cross-sectoral action that can better prepare Canadians for future public health emergencies and their consequences, while ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their best health and well-being. This is driven by a health equity approach to COVID-19, as outlined below:
Adapted loosely from the work of the Boston Consulting Group, this framework explores how a crisis can lead to opportunities for long-term and high-impact change. To integrate a focus on equity and health, the model draws on the values and principles from a human rights-based framework, a Health in All Policies framework, and a public health ethics framework. In order to be successful, this approach needs to be supported by a foundation of tangible actions to eliminate stigma and discrimination, strengthen cross-Canada commitments to robust data and research, clear public health communication, and collaboration across levels of government, sectors and civil society.
What’s the next step?
The pandemic has revealed deeply entrenched health and social inequities that exist in Canada. This is why our pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery actions need to prioritize health equity as a means to protect the people of Canada from the threat of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
This report offers evidence-based examples for action across a wide range of sectors. These can become elements of a health equity approach to incorporate into pandemic planning, response and recovery. These actions can be supported through effective leadership and governance at all levels and powerful social cohesion, supported by a robust public health system.