Infectious disease proposals get thumbs-up!

By MPP Toby Barrett

During my years in the Ontario Legislature, there haven’t been many times MPPs from all sides of the House have come together to support proposed legislation.

Recently, the second reading of my Private Member’s Bill on dealing with Lyme disease and other emerging infectious diseases received all-party support. And last week, MPP Michael Mantha debated his motion specifically aimed at Lyme. It also received support from all sides.

There’s presently no legislation directing the Ministry of Health to have a comprehensive plan or program dealing with infectious diseases. These two proposals would set in place a decision-making structure and policies to better enable the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to address such diseases.

Many physicians in Ontario, unlike our present Minister of Health, are not trained in tropical medicine or public health. This hit home with me years ago when I returned home from a six-month stint in South America. I had been working in ship yards, often up to my neck in the Amazon and Paramaribo Rivers, and picked up a number of tropical skin conditions. Fortunately, my physician in Port Dover was from the Caribbean and had training in tropical diseases. He explained to me there wouldn’t be another doctor in the area who would know what to do with what I brought back from South America.

When crafting my legislation, I took a neutral, objective, science-based approach. I call for a provincial framework and action plan for a surveillance program, education and guidelines regarding the prevention, identification, treatment and management of zoonotic and vector-borne infectious diseases.

I was pleased to hear Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s health minister, will be supporting the bill. He pointed out a framework already exists for the prevention and control of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases under two different pieces of public health legislation. He also told the Legislature that Ontario is one of only two provinces to have a public health veterinarian in the Ministry of Health.

On the Ebola front, Hoskins outlined what his ministry has done to provide health care providers with guidelines regarding diagnosis, specimen collection, infection prevention and occupational health and laboratory testing. An Ebola Command Table is in place with top-ranking health officials.

I was compelled to introduce this legislation after hearing the story of some local Lyme victims. NDP members Paul Miller and Wayne Gates, PC members Todd Smith and Lisa Thompson all heard similar stories and threw their support behind the bill. All had constituents who went to the United States for Lyme treatment, and paid for it out of their pocket. In my opinion, the system is letting these people down and is not there when they need it most. MPPs Soo Wong, Steve Clark and Percy Hatfield added their endorsement to Mantha’s motion.

While these legislative initiatives may not correct all the wrongs immediately, I feel it is at least taking us all down the right path and obviously my colleagues on both sides of the House feel this way too. I think it’s important to mention that as legislators we don’t always need to come up with all the answers. The work has been positively received because it leaves the details of the framework up to experts who know far more than politicians about infectious diseases.