Public health roles and responsibilities

If 2020 brought us anything, it was a renewed relationship with our public health authorities. When the world is not battling a global pandemic, we often think of them as health education resources. But have you ever wondered, just what our federal and provincial public health agencies do? And who is responsible for what?

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is a federal organization that communicates nationally with the public.

The PHAC leads on issues such as travel, federal control measures, and national coordination, according to a Public Health Ontario online resource. They will collect and publicize case numbers, support the work of the provinces, contribute to the supply and distribution of medical supplies, and provide support to residents, commercial entities and industry.

The PHAC also operate the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) located in Winnipeg. The laboratory is leading coordination among public health labs at the national level and providing testing capacity in areas of the country where capacity is limited.

Public Health Ontario (PHO) is an agency of the Government of Ontario. Their role is to provide scientific and technical advice and support to clients working in government, public health, health care and related sectors. According to the Public Health Onario website they perform thousands of COVID-19 tests every day and act as a reference laboratory, supporting other labs across Ontario coming on line with testing and validating new testing methodologies. They also provide training and support to health care partners.

“We analyze data to measure the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Ontario, to inform the use of public health measures,” The PHO website reads. “We synthesize knowledge from the rapidly published research literature and answer scientific questions from Ontario’s Ministry of Health, public health units, and other health stakeholders to aid them in their decision making.”

However, PHO does not set or enforce public health policy or provide medical advice or infection prevention and control guidance to individuals.