Top doctor tells local health officials to be ready for infectious disease

By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The region’s top doctor believes health boards need to remain vigilant, even as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be winding down.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, the medical officer of health and CEO of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, essentially delivered a message from her provincial counterpart Mar. 16 during the board’s public meeting.
Bocking distilled the province’s chief medical officer of health’s 2022 annual report.
The report, entitled Bring Ready, is focused on the role of local public health boards in infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness. It’s a very simple title, she said, and she hopes it serves to convey an important message.
“Really highlighting the need for continued and sustainable investments in public health,” she said. “Being prepared.”
COVID-19 thrusted the concept of pandemics and outbreaks into the spotlight. Responding to infectious diseases, preventing their spread, is at the heart of public health boards’ role.
“They are with us, really, indefinitely,” Bocking said. “Viruses and other pathogens have a unique ability to continue to evade kind of the best scientists and continue to evolve.
“Not only do we see new pathogens arising, things such as climate change will actually potentially accelerate some new pathogens arising or being able to spread in ways they weren’t previously able to spread.”
Public health bodies have been seeing the re-emergence of pathogens that had previously been well controlled. Measles and polio have re-emerged since the pandemic’s start, she said. They’ve returned in areas where those ailments were previously eliminated.
There’s been a national and a provincial increase in syphilis.
There are some ongoing cases of mpox, which was previously dubbed monkey pox.
“As I mentioned with measles, we are certainly aware of the potential for certain vaccine preventable diseases to re-emerge as we know that routine childhood immunizations were impacted throughout the pandemic,” Bocking said.
There’s a boom-and-bust cycle regarding public health funding. There’ll be a public health crisis such as COVID-19 that garners much attention. As the threat fades, governments reprioritize health care funding.
“Typically what we see is funding cuts to public health,” Bocking said. “Then, without fail, we’ll have another large outbreak or another public health crisis.
“And local public health agencies, provincial public health agencies are not as prepared as they should be.”
Local agencies have a role in maintaining preparedness and to build on partnerships that were built during the pandemic, she said.
“There’s a number of pieces of infrastructure that we are continuing with that were established during the pandemic such as monthly meetings with family health teams and primary care providers,” she said.