Denis Balibuz / Reuters
For seven years, Felix Lee has been serving ahead of Canadian public health in China. When the doctor is transferred to Beijing, he establishes relationships with health authorities that allow him to consider the official letter of the country that has been the source of various viral epidemics in the past few decades.
When Dr. Lee returned to Canada in 2015 and retired from the Canadian Public Health Agency (PHAC) after 23 years, he was not replaced.
But he maintained contact with the Chinese public health system and wanted to help when other outbreaks began to appear.
So, a few days after Wuhan closed on January 23, it sent an email to PHAC, including Chief Health Officer Theresa Tamm, who shared his expertise.
“I suggest going back to Ottawa to work with them on this. Dr. Lee said in an interview: I need help to save lives.
In the e-mail, he described his knowledge of the Chinese system and the connections he maintained there.
I received an email saying, “We’ll talk about it and let you know.” But I didn’t receive a response after that.
Instead, PHAC relies heavily on WHO for information and guidance in responding to the rapid spread of the deadly new virus.
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But critics have questioned the relationship between the World Health Organization and China, which the World Health Organization has praised for its effective response. Health organizations have raised little public concern about the reliability of the information provided by Beijing, although there is evidence that Chinese authorities have largely reported the number of deaths due to the outbreak.
Li said that during his time in China, there were differences in the “quality of information” that he could obtain through direct contact with people in the Chinese Ministry of Health and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. During the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in 2013, for example, it got a direct update from Chinese officials.
If he works now, he said, he “may get more accurate and timely information about many things.”
Public health experts said there are good reasons to search for more sources of information.
Kevin Fryer / Getty Images
“In acute emergencies, there is always a benefit from contact experience in this area” and contacts in accessing data and understanding nuances in the actual context. There is always value in having multiple sources of data, information or intelligence, and it would be wise to have as many sources as possible, said James Urbinski, director of the York Institute for Global Health Research at Dahdellah University.
“Relying on one source of information to make critical decisions makes you open to all of its biases and constraints, and every source – even official sources, such as the World Health Organization, the Chinese government, the CIA, the US government, and the Canadian government – has biases and limits.”
PHAC says she is completely confident in her methods – and who’s. “With the situation related to COVID-19 increasing rapidly around the world, Canada will continue to work with its international partners, including WHO and China, as well as with regional and regional partners to reduce the risks to Canadians and the world. Society,” said spokeswoman Anna Madison made a statement via email.
Madison said the agency can rely on Canadian foreign services “to exchange and collect information related to public health and health issues.”
However, Canadian embassies and consulates in China worked with low levels of staff after sending non-essential staff – including county representatives – to their home countries.
Unlike the United States, Canada does not have extensive global public health services, which makes it dependent on the World Health Organization. It is not a bad thing, said Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease specialist at the University of British Columbia, who has worked with the World Health Organization.
Dr. said Murthy: “The World Health Organization is a very prominent and very powerful organization and has that potential.” “I don’t think Canada specifically needs foreign public health agencies.”
But there is also the risk of relying on an agent that itself relies on information from China, a country where statistics are often subject to political necessity. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention criticized itself for reducing the number of workers in China by two thirds before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Alex Brandon / The Associated Press
In Canada, meanwhile, health leaders seem not to have received enough advice on the possible vulnerability of Chinese data sent by the World Health Organization, said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute, who has worked twice at the Canadian embassy in Beijing.
The result, he said, was that “misinformation driven by Chinese politics has tragically caused unnecessary Canadian deaths.”
Dr. Lee started his public health work in Beijing in 2008 believing that “Canadians should not respond to epidemics or epidemics when they reach the coast of Canada. We must work proactively with China.”
He declined to offer his views on how China and Canada responded to COVID-19, for fear of damaging relations with public health officials he still hoped to work with.
“As doctors and public health doctors, our mission is to save lives. “If I am called, I will make my next trip to Ottawa,” he said.
Now it is recommended to wear face masks in crowded public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies, and pay attention to how the three masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work. Written instructions are available at tgam.ca/masks
Register for Coronavirus Update Bulletin to read important Coronavirus news today, features and interpretations written by Globe Reporters.
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