Election Insights

Preparing for the Next Public Health Emergency

Matt DeCourcey, Head of Corporate Affairs at iK, reflects on his experience in public office on how the Canadian government was able to react decisively for the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we can better prepare for the next public health emergency.

Matt DeCourcey is a seasoned public policy leader and trusted advisor to decision makers at the local, national, and international level. He is the former Member of Parliament for Fredericton, and now serves as Head of Corporate Affairs for InterKnowlogy.

I remember the conversation clearly.

Matt DeCourcey, iK's Head of Corporate Affairs, celebrates his election win. (Source: CBC)

In my office at the Department of Finance—at the time I was advising Canada’s minister—I was on the phone with a colleague connected to global health intelligence.

“It’s much worse than we think,” he said. “We have no idea how serious this is going to be.”

A week or so later, on Friday the 13th, when COVID-19 shut us down, we began planning the economic response that would blunt the collective trauma we would face as a country.

With the lessons of recent economic crises to draw upon for guidance, measures were quickly enacted to keep Canadians whole. The economic response was immediate, impactful, and helped millions suffering the economic perils of lockdown.

Plainly said, the economic response of the Canadian government was swift and robust.

Pull back the curtain, however, and the picture at the time was one of a government scrambling to coordinate the whole of the emergency response. The economy was one element. But ensuring the durability of our health system(s), our industrial manufacturing capacity, and the multi-jurisdictional coordination required to keep people safe were less obvious.  

With no internal mechanism to map Canada’s public health emergency assets (e.g. PPE stockpiles, leading vaccine research, and available diagnostic and testing equipment) Canadian officials found themselves on the phone with our American friends, who had a better beat on where our own best resources lie.

As I recently heard one senior official of the time say, “We had to turn outside to rapidly pull together a picture of the state of industry, what were our capabilities, where were the gaps…”

COVID-19 shone a glaring light on the gaps in Canada’s public health emergency preparedness. Canada’s ability to rapidly detect, assess, and mitigate threats to human health were wanting.

Our ability to gather intelligence was lacking. Our capacity to collect and aggregate multi-jurisdictional data in real time was outdated. Add to that the decades long decline in Canada’s domestic biopharmaceutical industry.

Steps needed to be taken to remedy the situation.

In Budget 2021, the government announced a $2.2 billion Bio-manufacturing the Life Sciences Strategy that rests on the need for better coordination and governance of our public health emergency systems. It acknowledges the need to enable rapid decision-making and ensure that investments and actions achieve maximum impact.

Considering the experience of the pandemic, that’s a good start. But what else?

Earlier this week, a panel of experts brought together by the Public Policy Forum (PPF), released its report: The Next One: Preparing Canada for another health emergency.

The report calls for better risk assessment, emergency planning, and interoperability of data systems. It proposes a new institution to oversee health security, as well as need to identify, build and promote the Canadian comparative advantage in the global health supply chain. It also highlights the need for standardized electronic intelligence gathering to ensure real-time data is available to decision makers in a crisis.

Preparing for the next health emergency requires a multi-sectoral effort. InterKnowlogy can be a part of that effort.

With decades’ experience working with BioTech firms, the iK Insights platform helps organizations contextualize and communicate insights faster, enabling free-flowing data analysis that reduces response times and enables swift and certain action by decision makers.

iK Insights could do same for Canada’s public health actors.

The iK Insights Data Visualization Platform for Emergency Response Management.

In fact, iK Insights played an important role during the pandemic, helping a leading US BioTech firm track their fleet of medical devices, monitor disease spread, and inform next steps for public health. By helping the company deploy thousands of instruments with confidence, an IoT-enhanced platform offered detailed reporting and analysis that supported monitoring and control efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Due largely to a herculean effort on the part of Canadians, we made it through the worst stages of the pandemic. Though, it cost us 53,000 Canadian lives, not to mention the untold physical, mental, and psychological trauma that we will grapple with for years.

After a summer of wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, it’s understandable that attention has turned to preparing for a future of extreme weather. However, as the PPF report reminds us, preparing for the next public health emergency cannot lose steam.

Helping map out Canada’s comparative life sciences advantage is only the beginning. While iK Insights could paint a clear picture of where Canada fits into the global life sciences supply chain, it could also build capacity for the real-time, interoperable, and communicable data analysis that is required to fight the next public health war.

Building Canada’s health emergency preparedness capacity can make us less reactive during the next outbreak. Being ready to trade our strategic advantages will make us less reliant on our cheque book to procure vaccines and other essential biotech equipment.

Ultimately, preparing for “The Next One” can drive innovation, spur economic growth, and most importantly help keep us safe.

iK Insights Blog

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