In a statement emailed to Global News, Health Canada said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is responsible for a number of things including research, surveillance and monitoring, and risk assessment development as well as modelling and responding to outbreaks.
PHAC is also the body tasked with laboratory reference and diagnostic services, and providing education and awareness to the public.
According to Health Canada, the federal government spends $22 million in annual funding for programs or research to identify and track emerging diseases like the novel coronavirus.
This includes $13 million for zoonotic infectious diseases — those which jump from animals or insects to humans — including $4 million for the Infectious Disease and Climate Change Program, and $2 million for the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network.
The government also spends $7 million annually for surveillance and laboratory reference services for Lyme disease and other diseases spread by ticks.
Further, Health Canada said the federal government spends approximately $9 million in “dedicated funding to emerging diseases both respiratory and zoonotic, through the Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Infectious Diseases and the National Microbiology Laboratory.”
The agency said this money is used for “monitoring and assessing” the risk of emerging respiratory diseases within Canada and internationally, as well as “the detection and treatment of viral zoonoses, rabies and rickettsia and the development of short and long-term countermeasures to emerging pathogenic agents.”
Health Canada said that money is also used to monitor and investigate prion diseases, which affect both humans and animals by causing proteins in the brain to fold abnormally.
Prion diseases are sometimes spread through meat, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The money is also spent on “passive and active surveillance aimed at predicting the emergence, controlling the spread, and reducing the public health impact of vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus and Leptospira,” Health Canada said.
Asked whether there are plans to increase the annual funding to track and study zoonotic viruses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada said these types of diseases “remain a priority for the Government of Canada due to their potential risk to human health and the possibility of sudden case surges and/or outbreaks.”
“PHAC will closely consider the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic as it explores ways to strengthen Canada’s capacity to anticipate, track, and detect emerging diseases and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of Canadians,” the statement read.
In a previous interview with Global News, Scott Weese, chief of infection control at the University of Guelph’s Veterinary College, and former Canada research chair in zoonotic diseases, said funding for research to identify and track emerging diseases must be sustained over the long-term.
“It makes no sense to put all this money in now and then in five years say, ‘OK, well, it’s going to be 100 years for the next virus to come out so we’re good for a while, we don’t need to spend the money on it right now.’”
He said the more prevention works, the less people think about funding prevention because they don’t see a need for it.
“That’s going to be an issue because the economy and saving money is going to be a big consideration,” he said. “But, ultimately it costs us — just look how much money this virus cost us.”
Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said he hopes that the pandemic has “reignited the belief within the Canadian research community that we need to be doing more active research in these areas.”
“We need to find ways to ensure that it’s sustainable to be able to continue doing surveillance work and discovery work,” he previously told Global News.