Ministry Reports

The H1N1 Pandemic - How Ontario Fared : A Report by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health

June 2, 2010

From a public health point of view, there was really only one major story in 2009, and that was H1N1. There were times that it seemed there was no other story at all in Ontario or anywhere else for that matter. It was a year ago in April that we first began hearing about a new strain of influenza from health authorities in the United States and Mexico. A month later, the world was on high alert - cases were being reported in other countries, including Canada. On June 11, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. It was exactly four days later that I took up the position of Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, so to say that I hit the ground running would be something of an understatement.

In September of last year, as Ontario was heading into its traditional flu season, I released a report to the people of Ontario. Its purpose was twofold: to inform Ontarians about H1N1 and remind them of the precautions they should be taking, and to reassure them that as a province we were ready. It was going to be a different flu season, I told them, but we would get through it together. And we did.

In a technical sense, the pandemic has not yet run its course.We are waiting to see if there will be another upsurge, but we have good reason to believe that the worst is over. I am releasing this second report to Ontarians to give them my impressions of how things went during the first pandemic we have faced as a province in more than 40 years.

I also want to acknowledge that we did not get through H1N1 unscathed. Tragically, despite our best efforts, 128 people succumbed to H1N1. To the families who lost loved ones, our thoughts and sympathies are with you as we examine how we can improve our response to the next pandemic.

I need to emphasize that this report is by no means the final word on H1N1. It is safe to say that jurisdictions the world over are preparing reports on how well they handled the pandemic, and Ontario is no exception. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is currently conducting a detailed review of its response to H1N1. This review is a process review as opposed to an impact assessment. The actual impact of our pandemic response, in terms of deaths prevented and hospitalizations averted, is the subject of many other studies currently ongoing or planned.

This much less formal report is something that I owe, in my capacity as CMOH, to the people of this province. Last September I told them that we were ready. I believe that history will record that we were. But if we are going to be even more ready for the next pandemic, we need to be completely honest about what went right, and what went wrong, in our response to this one.

This is my initial attempt at doing exactly that. I am proud of how this province came together to deal with H1N1. I am proud of our public health system. I am proud of our hospitals, our clinics, our doctors and our nurses. I am proud to have worked with a provincial government that, in the best possible way, stepped aside and let us do our work. And I am proud of the people of Ontario for staying calm, being patient when things didn't go as smoothly as they should, and for getting us through the H1N1 pandemic together.

Dr. Arlene King
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health

The full report may be downloaded from the link below.

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The H1N1 Pandemic - How Ontario Fared : A Report by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health
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