Pandemic: the importance of public health systems

Never has a health emergency tested every facet of our lives as the one occurring right now. Fortunately, Québec can count on competent, accessible, and specialized public resources.

At the time of writing, the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases was already alarming. The situation demanded rapid intervention from our public authorities and a quick response from our well-established public health system.

According to the World Health Organization, containing an epidemic and preventing further spread requires that several measures be implemented simultaneously with regards to infrastructure, logistics, communications, and health monitoring. The Québec government was quick to apply these measures by declaring a state of health emergency on March 13, 2020, barely two weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was officially confirmed in Québec.

Claire Montour

“During a crisis of this magnitude, every action counts: ensuring the presence of competent staff, making testing available, establishing the right care trajectories, guaranteeing access to medical equipment and essential medication, and monitoring the progress of the epidemic and the effectiveness of public health measures,” says FSQ-CSQ1 president Claire Montour. “We must highlight the excellence of our public health care system, as well as the importance of our social programs, which provide everyone with more equitable treatment in the face of illness and hardship. In short, we can be proud of Québec’s model and our exemplary solidarity.”

A serious warning!

COVID-19 has shaken many of our beliefs, and all of our social, political, and economic systems – and has shattered our carefree nonchalant lifestyle.

“This invisible enemy has emphasized the importance of collaboration and reminds us that in times of crisis we need all of our players, from childcare workers to sanitation technicians, and social program supervisors,” says CSQ president Sonia Ethier. “All of them, directly or indirectly, contribute to ensuring better access and equity in matters of health. I applaud all of the initiatives and battles, which over the years have made it possible to reduce social inequalities. Is this not our best protection against adversity?”

A red flag for world leaders

“The new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses a challenge of historic proportions to humankind. […] Years of privatisation and cuts to public spending on health have undermined crisis preparedness. The coronavirus pandemic reveals the deep crisis of the neoliberal model of development and the reluctance of governments to take needed actions for achieving sustainable development goals. […] We need a massive, public-driven response.”

Excerpts from the PSI global campaign online platform.

Sonia Ethier

Global awareness

In March 2020, Public Services International (PSI) launched a new worldwide campaign2 illustrating the necessity and urgency of a global fight. In the short term, it aims to protect the lives of public service workers during epidemiological crises, in particular health personnel, by ensuring adequate working conditions, personal protective equipment, and the training required to avoid undue risk.

In the longer term, the campaign aims to build stronger universal health systems, with sufficient resources, as well as well-equipped and better-prepared staff to respond to future health and climate crises.

Many citizen and union actions are being put forward and the CSQ intends on participating.

The private health sector: increasing the risk of contagion

In the United States, nearly 9% of the population (27.5 million people) don’t have health insurance. Without a public health care system, access to a doctor, COVID-19 testing, and the necessary treatment in the event of a positive result are impossible for many.

Despite the free testing confirmed by Washington, those who fear having to pay large incidental medical costs, in the tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, simply forgo testing.

If the crisis continues, many people will lose their jobs and their private insurance plans, which will increase the risk of spreading the virus. Given the magnitude of the pandemic, the limits of the private health care system are becoming clear.


1 Fédération de la Santé du Québec
2 The PSI campaign is titled: Safe Workers Save Lives


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