Former federal health minister Dr. Jane Philpott says Ontario needs to do “much better” at collecting data that can help it understand how the coronavirus is hitting poorer and racialized Canadians harder than others, and how to start solving that problem.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Philpott, who is heading up the new Ontario Health Data Platform, said the work so far has been on trying to find ways to break down the silos in how Ontario health information gets shared and stored during the pandemic.
But she added that she plans to make recommendations that the health care system also needs to do a better job of recognizing and addressing the calls for more detailed breakdowns of that health information in order to be able to track how the illness is hitting poorer and racialized Ontarians more severely.
“So far, the information will be available based on what’s been available to date but I will also certainly be making recommendations going forward that we need to do much better in this area,” she said when asked about the need to improve the collection of race-based health data.
“This is a virus that has exposed systemic racism, has exposed why some people of particular racial or ethnic backgrounds are more at risk.
“I think the community would be very supportive of trying to do better in that area.”
Coronavirus: The impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in our society
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been multiple reports in both Canada and the U.S. detailing how much harder the virus is hitting Black communities.
In April, for example, an investigation by The Associated Press found that Black Americans make up 42 per cent of the deaths in that country due to the coronavirus — that’s double their share of the population.
A Washington Post analysis of U.S. county death rates also found that majority-Black counties see three times the number of coronavirus infections and six times as many deaths from the virus compared to white-majority counties.
In Canada, race-based health data isn’t normally collected, though an analysis of demographic data and neighbourhood case reports by Global News found that Black neighbourhoods in Toronto are being hit harder by the virus.
Growing concerns raised by community advocates have spurred some health authorities, including Toronto Public Health, to announce plans to start collecting race-based health data.
Underlying these calls for better data collection is the fact that, just like with the crisis caused by an explosion of cases in under-resourced long-term care homes, the coronavirus has exacerbated major existing shortfalls in health-care access.
“‘Good health’ is a product of access, social, cultural and economic factors. Similarly, structural and systemic inequalities are contributors to poor health outcomes,” Black health leaders said in a statement published with the Alliance for Better Communities in April.
“Ontario is home to the largest proportion of Black people in Canada. Here too, as in the rest of Canada, race is a determinant of health.
“COVID-19 does not flatten these disparities; it amplifies them.”
Philpott said that with the prospect of an “almost inevitable” second wave of the virus, public officials and public health leaders need to be able to learn the lessons of the first wave to prepare for the next.
“One can never be ready enough but we’ve learned a lot,” she said, pointing to work being done to shore up long-term care homes with things like personal protective equipment and enforcing infection protocols.
“We need to make sure we replicate those lessons across the country.”
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