Future of Public Health

Respond to the pandemic: invest in the future today

What does our future look like post-COVID-19? Can we envisage a future in which we are prepared, protecting the most vulnerable, confident in our public health system’s resources, and, most importantly, leadership?

As the world grapples with the pandemic, some places are faring better than others, in strikingly large part due to the relative strength of their public health infrastructure and leadership.

Here in British Columbia, we have managed the COVID-19 crisis well so far, with the province bending the curve persistently while trusting the recommendations of the province’s public health professionals. The University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, the backbone of the province’s home-grown expertise in public health, is a pivotal contributor to this.

UBC School of Population and Public Health PhD student Chenoa Cassidy Matthews prepares outreach packs for residents of the Vancouver downtown east side.

The school is a robust and adaptable institution that trains future Public Health Officers and nurtures research that accelerates solutions to challenges like SARS or COVID-19. Dr. Bonnie Henry, a familiar and comforting face to British Columbians in her role as the Provincial Health Officer, is also a Clinical Associate Professor at SPPH and an experienced authority in public health and preventative medicine. Dr. David Patrick, who until recently led the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), is also an SPPH professor and researcher in infectious disease epidemiology whose work in antimicrobial resistance – an ongoing global public health threat – has improved policy around the world. And they are joined by many others in our community.

Most diseases are not equal opportunity. Those with preexisting health issues are more susceptible to getting sick in a crisis.  The population’s health as a whole – deeply rooted in social and economic determinants of health – is crucial to our collective ability to fight infectious disease.

Dr. Henry addressed this in her April 23, 2020 update to the province, explaining, “We know that poor health is associated with things like poverty and what we call the social determinants of health. We know that people who are under-housed, [or] of lower socioeconomic status will be more affected by this crisis. Both the health crisis but also the economic crisis.” Studying these underlying factors and the way they interact to create the conditions for disease to ravage the most vulnerable communities is a cornerstone of the work done at SPPH. It’s an essential component of our preparedness to fight COVID-19 or any other infectious disease.

At the School of Population and Public Health, we are engaged in responding to the urgent and acute elements of a crisis like COVID-19, but also in finding and solving the underlying causes of health inequity.  Scholars like Dr. Patricia Spittal, Head of the Division of Health in Populations at SPPH, are working around the clock to address human dignity challenges exacerbated by COVID19, like a lack of drinking water and safe smoking and injection supplies for vulnerable populations in the downtown eastside.

Is there an opportunity for a better world beyond this pandemic? All that is certain is that there will be future public health crises, and that population health challenges and needs will persist. If we want the best chance at fighting the next challenges, whether COVID-19 or something else, we need to invest in public health in order to support the next Dr. Henry and Dr. Patrick. That’s why we have established the Future of Public Health Fund to support the future generations of public health professionals and public health in British Columbia.