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Public health must balance science and society, says former top doctor

Balancing science, society

A retired top doctor says public health orders have to balance science with society if they are to be effective.

"(Measures) will only work if you have a majority of the population that supports it," said Andre Corriveau, who was Alberta's chief medical officer of health from 2009 to 2012.

"You can't pass measures that a majority of the public is not supportive of, because it's not enforceable."

Corriveau, speaking from Iqaluit, Nunavut, where he was advising that territory on how to deal with its COVID-19 cases, spoke after recordings were released that appeared to show Alberta's current chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, expressing concern about politicians watering down her recommendations.

That just goes with the job, said Corriveau, who also served until last year as the top public health official in the Northwest Territories.

Experts such as himself or Hinshaw are responsible for winnowing through scientific evidence — often thin on the ground or hot off the research presses — to come up with the best advice they can. But, said Corriveau, judging what's acceptable or how something should be implemented is a political decision.

"There's a point beyond which you can't enforce any more," he said. "That's the role of the politician — to gauge that."

Nor is it appropriate for the chief health officer to advocate for measures not approved by the government, said Corriveau. The two sides have to trust each other and undercutting political decisions would damage that.

"There's always other people who can advocate," Corriveau said.

"Our effectiveness is built upon trust. If you turn around and you're doing public advocacy, then you've lost the trust and you're not effective any more."



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