Aug 17, 2009 01:19 PM
OTTAWA – The Canadian Medical Association Journal says Canada needs a national health czar with the power and independence to make unpopular but necessary decisions while coordinating the response to the swine flu pandemic.
"National leadership is needed in all countries," the journal's editor-in-chief Dr. Paul Hébert wrote in an editorial this week. "A visible independent health czar, with executive powers across all jurisdictions and who is ultimately accountable to the highest office in the country, must be in place."
Hébert said the health czar would be in charge of coordinating response to the pandemic of H1N1 influenza – which he expects to make a severe resurgence this fall – across provincial and territorial boundaries and "act at all levels of government as a second line of defence."
He also urged the government to prioritize which groups will receive vaccination and roll out its immunization program, which Ottawa said it expects to begin in November.
Hébert noted that no immunization program is guaranteed to eradicate the virus and so officials should be prepared to have a large number of severely ill and young patients filling hospital beds.
"In most jurisdictions, surge planning has not yet included how to secure experienced health care personnel and triage specialized equipment. We will also need to make hard decisions about who gets access to these limited resources," Hébert writes. "Now is the time for leaders to communicate a sense of urgency in getting modified plans finalized based on recent experiences and rapid feedback from stakeholders."
He said the health czar should immediately call a summit so everyone involved in pandemic response can talk about what to do next.
"This is not a time for complacency," Hébert wrote, adding that everyone from public health officials to first responders and the greater public need to communicate and make sure that plans work on the front lines.
"While we still hope for the best, we need to act now to deal with the worst that pandemic (H1N1) 2009 may deliver," he wrote. "Doing so will save lives."
Read the full editorial at www.cmaj.ca