B.C.’s health officer releases annual report on health targets

B.C. doing well reducing diabetes and Hep C, but needs to improve on mental health, infant mortality

A report by B.C.’s health officer says the province is falling behind in supporting mental health and reducing infant mortality rates.

The 244-page report released Friday by Dr. Bonnie Henry gauges how B.C. is meeting seven health targets set for 2023, outlined in a 2013 health report called Promote, protect, prevent: Our Health Begins Here.

The targets include healthy living, maternal and child health, mental health and substance use, disease prevention, injury prevention, environmental health, and response to public health emergencies.

Each category is analyzed by age, sex and health authority, excluding the First Nations Health Authority. The data is based on information collected in 2013 and 2014.

“Good health leads to improved productivity, better futures and stronger communities,” said Henry at a news conference at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. “There’s much to be optimistic about in this report, but the good health we enjoy in British Columbia is not enjoyed equally.”

B.C. aims for 80 per cent of its residents 12 years and older to report good mental health. Since 2005, the rate has decreased to 68.4 per cent in 2013 – the latest figures available.

Henry’s report points to the opioid crisis and its impacts on mental health and death rates. Death due to preventable causes is nearly double for men than women, but that does not factor in 2016-to-18 death rates due to overdoses.

Prevention of infant mortality is also set to not meet 2023 targets.

In 2016, 153 infants died in their first year of life – a rate of 3.4 per 1,000 live births. The rate has slid overall since 2001, although not yet enough to meet the 2023 target of 2.5 per 1,000 live births.

Infant mortality can result from a number of different causes, including perinatal conditions, congenital anomalies and respiratory and infectious diseases. Improving sanitation, nutrition and education has also led to reductions over time.

Henry identified problem areas such as the gap in life expectancy between communities, early child development performance, fruit and vegetable consumption, children learning to stay healthy in school, and hazardous drinking.

Her report describes some headway, specifically within reducing diabetes cases.

“This is really a success story for B.C.,” Henry said. “There’s a lot of effort in identifying people with diabetes, providing wraparound care, and prevention methods.”

Other positives included fewer women smoking during pregnancy and lowering Hepatitis C rates.

The report outlines seven recommendations to meet the 2023 targets, centering around improving equal health supports across the province.

Henry proposes assessing all new policies implemented by the B.C. government for their health and equity impacts, as well as developing a health promotion strategy that supports all sex-and-gender-specific needs.

Other recommendations include increasing the focus on injury prevention to rural and remote areas, and establishing more regular and ongoing reporting by heath authorities.

“Things like poverty reduction, addressing homelessness, improving childcare, and action on climate change – these are measures that all support better health for the whole population in B.C. and address some of the inequities and differences we are seeing.”

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