For more than 100 years, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) has been the leading non-governmental “voice of public health” in a country known for its commitment to universal health coverage, said James Chauvin, director of policy for the CPHA, during a Nov. 3 presentation at the headquarters of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
Founded in 1910 as a charitable organization, CPHA is the only Canadian nongovernmental organization focused solely on public health, Chauvin noted.
“We are constantly reminding Canadians that it’s not just about the health system; public health is much more than that. We have been doing the social determinants of health, for example, for 100 years, ensuring that Canadians have universal and equitable access to the basic conditions necessary for health.”
Chauvin spoke at PAHO/WHO during a trip to Washington for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). He described some of his organization’s most important activities both historically and recently, noting that CPHA currently partners with more than 250 other agencies and organizations to promote public health in Canada as well as overseas.
A major focus of the association is policy advocacy. Its work in this area includes developing position papers, reviewing public health spending in the federal budget, and providing briefings for parliamentary staff and committees.
One of CPHA’s highest-profile activities recently was an appearance before the Canadian Supreme Court in support of a controversial drug injection clinic, Insite, in British Columbia. Following criticism that Insite was encouraging drug use, the federal government had refused to renew a legal exemption that would allow it to continue providing clean needles and other support to reduce the harms of drug addiction. Siding with the CPHA and other supporters, and in line with lower court decisions, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the clinic and found the federal government in contempt of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We’re now looking at the charter and how it relates to other issues such as prostitution,” said Chavin. “How can we protect people in the sex trade while decreasing the risks to the community at large?”
At the international level, CPHA has collaborated with PAHO/WHO in a number of activities, for example, providing technical experts to help establish and maintain national childhood immunization systems (also involving UNICEF) and in support of PAHO/WHO’s Provac initiative, which works to strengthen vaccine decision-making through the use of cost-effectiveness analysis.
The association has also supported the formation of similar public health associations in developing countries around the world, including in Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominica Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and the Caribbean. Much of this work has, until now, been supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CPHA is currently working with both the APHA and the Mexican Public Health Association (SMSP in Spanish) “to push forward a three-country public health agenda,” said Chauvin.
In addition to serving as CPHA’s director of policy, Chauvin is also currently vice-president and president-elect (for 2012) of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA). Over his 35-year career, he has worked in over 40 countries, including for extended periods in Haiti, Tunisia, South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, and the United Kingdom.