To the Editor:
The response by Public Health agencies across Canada to COVID-19 has been, for the most part, timely and influenced by expertise and science. Actions were taken and dollars were found to fund the costs. Here on PEI, the response was not a result of complex decision making: secure the entry points, change population behaviours through public health measures, and restrictions such as social distancing and limits to gatherings. While not complex, it has not been without its naysayers and critics, and fine points of timing and the suggestion of ‘economy-over-people’ have certainly been debated. But it is interesting to me that while everyone is noticing and talking about the threat of COVID-19 and the vast majority of people are being compliant, other critical and longstanding public health threats have garnered much less action, attention, and discussion.
If government and Public Health can develop a successful plan to inoculate our population against COVID-19, why haven’t they addressed other public health emergencies in the same way? Why are science, expertise and the basic public health principles of prevention, promotion, and lowering risk, not being consistently applied to other public health threats? We know that when people’s basic economic, health, and social needs are not met their risk for poor health outcomes increase substantially. We know how family violence impacts children’s brain development and their ability to flourish in our societies. We know that exposure to adverse childhood events (abandonment, neglect, violence, significant loss, parental addictions) significantly increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, further trauma, suicide, and more. We know that people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ communities are at even higher risk for poor health outcomes due to systemic discrimination.
Most of us on PEI understand we are at risk of developing COVID regardless of who we are, who we know, what our income is, or what our status in the social strata is. Because the threat is something we can all relate to and fear, it has not been hard for our PHO to convince us the cornerstones of public health policy need to be put in place: compliance with restrictions, behaviour change, and vaccines. Quite rightly, we want to keep our families, neighbours, and friends safe.
However, many people believe poverty, family violence, economic insecurity, racism, and homelessness do not affect them, or are not their problem. Even though these are significant public health concerns they do not feel personally threatened. But we shouldn’t have to wait for everyone to experience these threats, or believe we need to inoculate our population against them, before the cornerstones of public health policy are implemented.
There is research and lived experience that inform this policy regarding the development and implementation of ‘vaccines’ that will ‘inoculate’ the vast majority of people at risk of living in poverty and experiencing all the secondary ‘symptoms’ that come with it. Why is action not being taken? The PHO and the government need to be courageous, act, dedicate the funds needed, and implement the measures that will address these public health emergencies; measures such as Basic Income Guarantee, addressing adverse childhood experiences, and adopting a social emotional learning approach to education.
It is about doing the right thing: a science-based, public health informed response to critical public health emergencies - not just COVID - even if it is complex and possibly unpopular with those not currently feeling threatened.
Susan Hartley, PhD
Psychologist, and Mental Health Advocate Georgetown Royalty