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Canadian Public Health Association

Canada as a public health powerhouse

Shweta Dhawan, Michelle Amri

Shweta and Michelle

Canada has developed a reputation as a powerhouse in shaping public health practice and policy. Since the publication of the landmark Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986, we have continued to pioneer work on the social determinants of health and health equity. Public Health 2016, CPHA’s national conference, reinforced this position by catalyzing powerful conversations around timely social issues of racism, violence prevention, and systems thinking.

A dialogue on racism took centre stage on day one of the conference as Camara Jones, President of the American Public Health Association, presented passionate opening remarks urging the audience to take a leadership role on this far-reaching and globally significant issue. This dialogue was continued during the plenary session entitled Health Equity, Social Justice and the Racialization of Canadian Society where the role of media, research, and program/policy design was explored further in the context of racism. The audience was tremendously engaged and asked provocative questions that spurred great discussion!

Public Health 2016 also featured a dialogue on violence. In recent years, discourse on violence has not received a high profile in public health, but this is changing, particularly with the Sustainable Development Goals’ specific targets aimed at promoting peace and justice to build strong communities (see targets 5.2, 5.3, 16.1 and 16.2). The international panelists in the plenary session on Public Health and the Prevention of Violence highlighted the importance of the social determinants of health in addressing violence – leading delegates through the personal and environmental risk factors in the life of an individual.

These public health issues were presented through a lens of systems thinking, a concept based on the integration of public and government sectors to solve complex public health problems cohesively. This holistic approach was first introduced by an accomplished panel, Towards Systems Thinking 7.0, and later emerged in discussion around Cannabis Policy Reform in Canada. The latter interactive session not only presented an opportunity to put systems thinking into practice, but also gave delegates a platform to shape CPHA’s advocacy role on cannabis regulation in the country.

Beyond the benefits derived from the discussions around these timely, yet technical issues, the passion and conviction of speakers and participants have inspired us, and instilled faith that the future of public health in Canada looks strong and promising. Canada will continue as a powerhouse in public health, and in doing so, will light the way for the rest of the world.

Editor’s note: This Student Corner article is written by two Canadians whose paths first crossed through their global health work with the World Health Organization in the Philippines.

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