Making prevention a priority

October 3/2014

By Elaine Smith

What shape should the ideal health system take if health promotion and prevention were valued as much as disease treatment?

The potential answers to that question will be up for discussion as part of the Global Health Summit, Creating a Pandemic of Health, being convened by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health from November 3 to 5. The summit is divided among five key themes in global health, and the conveners of the Preventing the Preventable theme are seeking solutions that will work in Canada, while foreign participants are hoping to find ideas that fit their own countries.

Summit partners from Brazil, China and Ethiopia will discuss their own experiences at the summit, and Onil Bhattacharyya, an Assistant Professor at the School’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, says Canada can learn from each of them.

“The summit will be an opportunity for different countries with different levels of development that have gone down different paths to share and compare,” said Bhattacharyya, also an Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, family physician and the Frigon-Blau Chair in Family Medicine Research at Women’s College Hospital.

Promoting the integration of public health and medicine is one of the underlying goals of the summit, as Katherine Rouleau, director of the Global Health program for the Department of Family and Community Medicine, explained.

“While quality patient care and population or public health can each achieve a lot to improve health, it is only when they inform each other in a deliberate, integrated way that they can address the array of issues that undermine health,” Rouleau said.

“Physicians have the potential for a large impact in prevention because our relationship with patients is really strong, but much of what patients need to be healthy lies outside the scope of medicine and is dependent on broader social policies, such as access to decent housing and to healthy food,” Rouleau continued.

Rouleau also says in caring for both individuals and communities, policymakers are learning that primary care is best delivered as a team, involving the unique expertise of nurses, dieticians, pharmacists, rehabilitation experts and public health experts as well.

Professor Ross Upshur, head of the School’s Clinical Public Health Division and the Canada Research Chair in Primary Care Research, noted that harmonizing public health and clinical medicine “would permit better integration of health surveillance across chronic and infectious diseases, enhance prevention efforts and improve individual and community health.”

Freida Chavez, Director of the Global Affairs Office at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, believes that any new strategy must be driven by a commitment to both collaborative practice amongst health care professionals and participation of communities.

“Understanding each other’s scope of practice, the social determinants of health and seeing how we can work together are crucial” she said, noting that nurses work in numerous settings and are keen to collaborate and partner with all sectors to promote public health.

“The summit should provide a dynamic opportunity to enhance and expand these collaborations that will foster innovation for an ideal primary health care system.”

photo by Dr. Abdullah Naser via Flickr