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The terror and destruction caused by the recent Tsunami Disaster has made Canada's recognition of its own public health system even more significant. Canadians understand that they can no longer take for granted safe food, safe water, safe housing, clean air and disease-free environments. Growing numbers now realize that environmental public health programs and services are essential to preserve and improve environmental and social conditions for their communities and to protect property values.

Long before devastation struck South Asian, the National Executive Council of the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI) proclaimed that January 3 to 9, 2005 would be the first annual "Environmental Public Health Week." This recognition of the commitment of Certified Public Health Inspectors and Environmental Health Officers across Canada emphasizes the importance of public health programs in meeting new challenges that affect human health.

CIPHI, a national non-profit that traces its roots back to 1913, "continually works to protect the health of all Canadians, advance the sanitary sciences and enhance the field of public health inspection."

Environmental public health and sanitation accomplishments are credited with significant contribution to the improvement in overall life expectancy from 55.9 years to 79.6 years between 1901 and 2001 -- an increase that has Canada globally ranked fifth in terms of life expectancy. This improvement is due in part to public health efforts that have eliminated more than 80 per cent of human disease in Canada.

Public Health Inspectors and Environmental Health Officers provide services and develop policy in a broad spectrum of areas, many of which relate directly or indirectly to real estate ownership and community development including:

  • Food safety and prevention of food-borne illness
  • Drinking water and air quality
  • Rental housing conditions
  • Childcare and institutional facilities
  • Playground safety
  • Onsite sewage disposal assessments
  • Outbreak surveillance and management e.g. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

Environmental Public Health (EPH) services and adequate sanitation have been the backbone of public health intervention since the industrial revolution of the 1800's. However, cutbacks by a complacent bureaucracy have resulted in erosion of this strategic line of defense. In 1971, the EPH workforce in Canada was reportedly an estimated 2,046 frontline personnel -- an approximate ratio of 1:10,700 to the population served. By 2001, the estimated number in the EPH workforce had declined to 1,302 workers, which creates an average ratio of 1:18,300 to the rising population. The continuing emergence of new issues and health threats, including E. coli, West Nile Virus, BSE, SARS and bio-terrorism attacks, underlines the urgent need for Canada to re-build a strong and resilient EPH system and workforce.

Although some areas have ratios above the national average, there are also regional EPH gaps. Canadians planning a move to a new community or re-evaluating residency in their current municipality should include an investigation into how prepared the community is to anticipate, recognize and respond to emerging threats to public health and safety.

The CIPHI commitment to building a stronger public health protection system is outlined in its 2004 report, Canada's Public Health Protection System: The Need for a National Strategy to Revitalize Frontline Environmental Public Health Services. CIPHI continues lobbying for a national strategy that would revitalize frontline EPH services in Canada and address the highly-fragmented nature of the system. Following its preventative philosophy, this professional organization believes that it is time for all levels of government in Canada to develop and implement this strategy as part of nationwide reforms to create a ''Pan-Canadian'' public health system before the next crisis strikes.

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