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  • Establishing priorities for national communicable disease surveillance

Establishing priorities for national communicable disease surveillance

The federal government has collected information on communicable diseases since 1924, under the legisla­tive authority of the Statistics Canada Act and the Health Canada Act. Aggregate data on communicable diseases was initially collected and collated by The Dominion Bureau of Statistics (later changed to Statistics Canada), but this respon­sibility, with the exception of tuberculosis, was transferred to the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control (LCDC) in 1988. Responsibility for tuberculosis was subsequently transferred to the LCDC in 1995. Currently, information on communicable diseases under national surveillance is managed by the Divi­sion of Disease Surveillance within the Bureau of Infectious Diseases, LCDC.

The delivery of health care and public health services is identified in the Canadian Constitution as a provincial power. The federal government has powers over the provision of safe food and the importation of communicable diseases, and has the power to assist in a crisis such as an infectious disease outbreak.

Although communicable disease surveillance is carried out under provincial authority, coordination and monitoring oc­cur at the federal level. Provincial and federal health authori­ties reach agreement on communicable disease surveillance by means of a joint committee called the Advisory Committee on Epidemiology (ACE) and its subcommittee on communica­ble diseases.

The Division of Disease Surveillance is frequently asked why all infectious diseases of general interest are not nation­ally notifiable. First, disease surveillance requires money, time and energy for health care providers, local health units, provinces, territories or Health Canada to report and collect data on every communicable disease. Second, it requires con­siderable time and effort to make a disease nationally notifi­able because every province and territory needs to go through the legislative or regulatory process of making the disease re- portable within their jurisdictions. The process is managed by setting priorities to decide where to put the greatest effort. Cri­teria for priority setting should be explicit and measurable, and should minimize the influence of such factors as personal interest and political agendas. To the utmost degree possible, the criteria should be based on scientific evidence. Above all, “the challenge is to make the priority-setting process trans­parent and open to criticism and revision”.
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