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OHPE Bulletin 344, Volume 2004, No. 344

OHPE Features Series: A View to the Future--Papers from CPHA's 94th Conference

Today, we present something new for our readers. For the first time, we are running a series of articles featuring papers presented at a national conference.

In May 2003, two OHPE editors travelled to Calgary, Alberta, for the Canadian Public Health Association's 94th Annual Conference. They took part in workshops, oral presentations, forums, poster sessions, and keynote addresses shaped around the conference theme (A View to the Future: creating a vision for public health in Canada) and sub-themes (emerging opportunities, challenges and strategies; partnerships in public health; and technology as a portal to the future).

In the middle of a SARS crisis, with the West Nile Virus looming, upcoming change in governments, fiscal uncertainties, and policy challenges, a public health conference was both timely and a risky undertaking. It drew together critical thinkers, practitioners, academics, policy makers, community activists, and health professionals, all focusing on both the present and the future.

Keynote speakers such as Michael Bird, of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Centre, and Ruben Nelson, of Alberta's Alliance for Capitalizing on Change, challenged the more than 400 participants to become "effective agents of transforming change in the 21st century" and to broaden our perspectives beyond "industrial public policy" to focus on future communities systems.

Senator Michael Kirby, chair of the standing committee on social affairs, science and technology and its report on reform of the Canadian health system, was eloquent and inspiring in his analysis of the fragility of public health systems and the opportunities created by the SARS crisis to "seize the moment" to put issues on the table. Kirby's call to action, backed by his detailed analyses of national and provincial public health strategies, provoked much audience response.

Later the same day, a special forum on SARS featured a panel from international, national, and provincial agencies and governments working on the pandemic. To a packed room and attentive media, SARS and public health was hotly debated. We came away troubled about the jurisdictional, economic, and communication challenges, and, most of all, the impacts on public health capacities.

But in the sessions where program and practice and policy and proposals were presented and explored, there was confidence in the path ahead. We talked with a variety of people from across the country about their programs, frameworks, campaigns and research, and came back to Ontario laden with reports, papers, posters, and ideas.

We were so inspired and challenged by the conference, we wanted to share what we learned and have invited a number of presenters to share their conference material with our readers through our feature articles.

We beginin in OHPE 344.1: Nola Ries, Project Manager/Research Associate, Health Law Institute, University of Alberta, writes on Public Health and the Law: "The emergence of West Nile Virus in Canada provides an example of the problem of public health risk tradeoffs, the situation that arises when taking action to reduce one health risk may create another."

In coming weeks, we'll have articles on neighbourhoods' impacts on health, physicians attitudes to health promotion, citizen participation, e-health and online campaigns, and poverty effects.

Welcome to our window on CPHA's "View to the Future."