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Rising food insecurity, systemic racism in medicine, and transparency of COVID-19 data in this week’s top Canadian health news.

Health News Recap

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian companies are now producing enough personal protective equipment to be almost “self-sufficient” to meet domestic demand. However, Canada still has large orders of protective equipment pending from other countries, mostly China; for example, as of June 16, Canada had received only 12.9 million of 121.9 million N95 masks ordered.
  • Meanwhile, in Ontario, family doctors say they are increasingly reliant on donations from charities and other businesses to help secure supplies of protective equipment. According to the Ontario Medical Association, some 4,000 individuals and groups representing more than 12,500 healthcare workers reported inventory issues last month.
  • According to Statistic Canada, the percentage of Canadians who report food insecurity increased from 10% in 2017-18 to 14.8% in May this year. Among people who weren’t working due to the pandemic, three in 10 reported going hungry. Statistics Canada said the situation is likely worse than the data shows, as renters and other groups hit hard by the recent economic downturn were underrepresented.
  • Canadian doctors shared stories of their encounters with systemic racism in health care. Meanwhile, British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said an upcoming investigation into racism in the province’s health system would include protections for whistleblowers. The inquiry follows allegations that emergency department workers were playing a “game” to guess the blood-alcohol level of incoming Indigenous patients.
  • Quebec’s health ministry and the province’s public health institute will shift from daily to weekly updates on COVID-19, despite continuing to lead the country in new infections. Quebec’s public health director said the province made the change to provide the public with “more stable numbers” on cases, deaths, hospitalizations and testing. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hopes that the Quebec government will “continue to be transparent and open.”
  • Public Health Ontario lost a host of senior leaders due to budget cuts and restructuring in the year leading up to Canada’s outbreak of COVID-19, which some say has left the agency understaffed to respond to the pandemic. The province has eliminated at least six senior leadership positions, including key roles in health communications, data collection and laboratory operations, since June 2019.
  • Health Canada is taking steps to address a nationwide shortage of the thyroid drug propylthiouracil after the country’s only supplier stopped making the drug. A new supplier has proposed to import a limited supply from Australia by July, with a larger shipment to follow in October.
  • Fines for violating public safety orders have disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, including black, Indigenous and other racialized groups, according to a report by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Overall, enforcement officers issued some 10,000 tickets between April 1 and June 15, with the vast majority handed out in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
  • The Canadian Medical Association is lobbying the federal government to provide a $300,000 grant to the families of frontline healthcare workers who die from COVID-19. The proposed death benefit would be similar to existing support for families of first responders who die on the job.
  • Health Canada recalled three more hand sanitizer products containing industrial-grade ethanol that is harsher than the type approved for use in Canada. The health regulator recalled thirteen other hand sanitizer products earlier this month.

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