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Premiers agree to accept new federal health-care funding offer



health funding

Canada’s premiers will formally accept an offer from the federal government for billions in additional health-care funding, but say they will also insist the money continue to flow for more than 10 years.

The deal amounts to an additional $46 billion from Ottawa over a decade, as long as the provinces meet some conditions on how the money is spent and report data to demonstrate whether and how the money is making a difference in the health-care system.

The premiers say the offer, tabled at a first ministers’ meeting last week, is nowhere near what they asked for — but new money cannot be turned down.

“We have agreed to accept the federal funding,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said in an interview with The Canadian Press following a virtual meeting of all premiers Monday afternoon.


“We believe it’s a step in the right direction, but we also recognize that it doesn’t deal with that long-term sustainability of health-care funding challenges that we all face in our provinces and territories. So we will be writing to the prime minister to talk about and to address some of those issues.”

Stefanson is currently the chair and spokeswoman for the group of premiers known as the Council of the Federation.

Since 2020 the premiers have been asking Ottawa to increase the annual health transfers to cover 35 per cent of provincial health budgets, up from the current 22 per cent. To get there, the premiers said they wanted an immediate increase of $28 billion a year, and then an additional five per cent annually after that.

The offer Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made last week includes a top-up to the Canada Health Transfer of $2 billion immediately, annual increases to of at least five per cent for the next five years, and $25 billion over 10 years for priority areas: mental health, data collection, family medicine, surgical backlogs and health human resources.

The provinces and territories will only get the additional money if they agree to conditions, including an upgrade of health data collection to better show how the system is performing and annual reporting of specific indicators.

Ottawa intends to sign one-on-one agreements with every province and territory to tailor the deal to their unique needs. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc have already met with Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to start working toward those agreements.

LeBlanc said they will be in British Columbia Tuesday, followed by the territories and then the prairies before the end of the week.

The federal Liberals want the broad strokes of the agreements in place before the next budget, which is expected sometime in March or early April.

“What we’re looking for is a quick agreement on the path forward,” Duclos said following a meeting with Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston in Halifax.

The initial agreements will be a general acceptance of the offer and conditions, while it will take longer to develop specific plans for each province, he said.

The premiers are concerned that while the annual Canada Health Transfer will continue to rise, the one-on-one agreements for targeted programs are only funded for 10 years.

Stefanson called that a “fiscal cliff.”

“We want to make sure that also there’s a future path to a sustainable health-care transfer from the federal government,” she said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford proposed to his colleagues at the Monday meeting that they ask Trudeau to extend those deals beyond the 10 years.

In a statement, his office said the recommendations would allow for sustainable funding that is “data-driven based on performance.” Ford met with Duclos and LeBlanc last week and the statement from his office Monday said he was “confident” Ottawa would accept his proposal.

Stefanson would not identify many specifics of Ford’s proposal but said the idea is to ensure that Ottawa keeps funding those programs for the long-term. That could be through extended agreements or by adding that money to the annual Canada Health Transfer after the first 10 years is over.

The transfer comes with very few conditions, though provinces do have to abide by the principles of the Canada Health Act. That means Ottawa can, and has, clawed back funding if the provinces charge patients for health services that are supposed be funded by the public purse.

British Columbia Premier David Eby said in a statement that “it’s clear every region of our country is struggling with increased strains” on health-care systems.

“This proposal from the federal government reverses course and begins moving us in the right direction,” he said.

“It offers stability over the long term and provides reassurance to British Columbians that we can work together to improve our public health-care system, including immigration pathways for health-care workers and national credential recognition.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Monday the federal offer is not going to be enough to “monumentally change” how provinces deliver health-care but it’s still more than was on the table before.

“I don’t think anyone in Canada is of the mind that we can be rejecting or forgoing health investment,” Moe said in Regina.

“It isn’t anywhere near what was requested by the premiers for a significant period of time. And that request was for the federal government to become a full funding partner.”

Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson said the deal aligns with her province’s priorities on expanding the health workforce and reducing surgery wait times. Following the meeting with Duclos and LeBlanc, she said they expect to have a full agreement soon.

“We were able to speak very quickly and clearly about our shared priorities and we’re looking forward to getting agreements in place,” she said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the funding will only pay for about 14 days of services in his province. But he said it’s time to move forward.

“I would say, though, there’s certainly a recognition — a very strong recognition — that this doesn’t begin to reflect the needs in the health-care system,” he said at a news conference in Fredericton.

-With files from Liam Casey in Toronto, Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax and Hina Alam in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2023.


Marburg virus outbreak in two African countries



Early this year, Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania reported outbreaks of Marburg virus disease (MVD), the first-ever outbreak of the disease in these countries. As the countries respond to the outbreaks through contact tracing and restricting movement across affected regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the risk of spread of the disease as “very high” across both countries.


Explained | The Marburg virus and the recent outbreak caused by it


The Marburg virus was first identified in 1967 during outbreaks in Germany and Serbia and is known to cause severe and fatal viral haemorrhagic fevers in humans.


The virus is closely related to another deadly virus, Ebola and is rated as a high-risk pathogen by the WHO. Marburg virus is transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals such as fruit bats, and further human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected patient or contaminated surfaces resulting in outbreaks.

Since its initial detection in 1967, several outbreaks of Marburg virus have been detected between 1975 and 2023, with African countries being the most affected and often with high fatality rates up to 90%, depending on the early access to quality care.

In recent years, and for the first time, isolated cases have been reported in Guinea and Ghana in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

New outbreaks

An outbreak of unknown haemorrhagic fever linked to a funeral ceremony was reported from Equatorial Guinea on February 7, 2023, which was later confirmed as Marburg virus on February 13 by the WHO. A month later, Tanzania reported an outbreak of MVD on March 21, after the detection of eight suspected cases, five of which were fatal. The genome sequence of a Marburg virus from Equatorial Guinea was quickly made available in public domain by researchers. The sequence shows high similarity with Marburg virus genomes previously found in fruit bats, suggesting a potential zoonotic origin.

Is there a concern?

There are no approved vaccines, antivirals or monoclonal antibodies for Marburg virus yet and supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications forms the mainstay. However, the WHO aims to accelerate trials of some investigational vaccines. Case detection through contact tracing, molecular diagnosis and quarantine is central to managing the spread of the disease.

While the two outbreaks have triggered a rapid res- ponse to control the spread, the outbreak in Equatorial Guinea has spread to multiple provinces and has even crept into a populous city, Bata. Equatorial Guinea has, so far, reported a total of 35 con- firmed cases and 27 deaths. The large geographic spread of the infection in the country and the unidentified epidemi- ological links between many of the reported cases suggest a wider range of transmission of the virus.

The large geographic spread of the infection in the country and the unidentified epidemiological links between many of the reported cases suggest a wider range of transmission of the virus.


As the affected countries continue to make efforts to contain the disease and another country, Burundi, investigates a suspected outbreak of viral haemorrhagic fever, surveillance of emerging viral diseases is crucial to help early detection, monitoring the circulation and evolution, and develop effective diagnostics, prevention and control measures.

It is only natural that the concept of One Health is increasingly taking centre-stage.

(The authors are researchers at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi. All opinions expressed are personal)



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A glass of wine or beer per day is fine for your health: new study



A new Canadian study of 4.8 million people says a daily alcoholic drink isn’t likely to send anyone to an early grave, nor will it offer any of the health benefits touted by previous studies, even if it is organic red wine.

Low and moderate drinkers have similar mortality rates to those who abstain entirely, researchers from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research explain. On the other hand, women who enjoy more than one standard drink per day are at least 20 per cent likely to die prematurely.

“In this updated systematic review and meta-analysis, daily low or moderate alcohol intake was not significantly associated with all-cause mortality risk,” the study’s authors write, “while increased risk was evident at higher consumption levels, starting at lower levels for women than men.”

Published Friday in the medical journal JAMA Open Network, the study comes on the heels of a report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) that said Canadians should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per week in order to minimize the health risks associated with alcohol.


Lead researcher Dr. Jinhui Zhao and his co-authors wanted to better understand the link between alcohol and all-cause death, including theories advanced by previous studies that a small amount of alcohol can provide health benefits, and that “moderate drinkers” live longer and are less likely to die from heart disease than non-drinkers.

They reviewed 107 studies from between 1980 and 2021 involving 4.8 million people and found that consuming more than one standard drink per day raised the risk of premature death significantly, especially for women.

In Canada, a standard drink is defined as a 341-ml bottle of five per cent alcohol beer or cider, a 142-ml glass of 12 per cent alcohol wine or a 43-ml shot glass of 40 per cent alcohol spirits. Each standard drink contains 13.45 grams of pure alcohol.

“There was a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality among female drinkers who drank 25 or more grams per day and among male drinkers who drank 45 or more grams per day,” the authors wrote. “Low-volume alcohol drinking was not associated with protection against death from all causes.”

When they looked at previous studies that suggest people who drink a little are less likely to die early or from heart disease than people who don’t drink at all, they found the evidence was skewed by systematic bias.

“For example, light and moderate drinkers are systematically healthier than current abstainers on a range of health indicators unlikely to be associated with alcohol use, (like) dental hygiene, exercise routines, diet, weight (and) income,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, abstainers may be statistically more likely to experience poorer health, since many have had to stop – or never started drinking in the first place – for health reasons. They also found most of the studies they reviewed overrepresented older white men in their data, failing to account for the experiences of women, racialized people and people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

When Zhao and his colleagues adjusted the data to account for these variables, they couldn’t find any evidence that drinking a low or moderate amount of alcohol had any kind of positive effect on life expectancy or heart health.

“Our meta-analysis… found no significant protective associations of occasional or moderate drinking with all-cause mortality, and an increased risk of all-cause mortality for drinkers who drank 25 g or more,” the authors conclude.

“Future longitudinal studies in this field should attempt to minimize lifetime selection biases by not including former and occasional drinkers in the reference group, and by using younger cohorts more representative of drinkers in the general population at baseline.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health matters, the following resources may be available to you:

  • Hope for Wellness Helpline for Indigenous Peoples (English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut): 1-855-242-3310
  • Wellness Together Canada: 1-866-585-0445
  • Drug Rehab Services: 1-877-254-3348
  • SMART Recovery:
  • Families for Addiction Recovery: 1-855-377-6677
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868



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U of A teaming up with researchers to get people moving in a virtual gym



Game creators at the University of Alberta (U of A) teamed up with their Japanese counterparts in hopes to get more people exercising and having fun in a virtual reality game called Slice Saber.

The U of A said in a recent news release that they’re looking at things like what it sounds like when someone slices through a watermelon with a lightsabre. And after it’s been sliced, what are the physics of the watermelon cut up?

The game is one of many available on Virtual Gym, an exercise platform still in development, where gamers of all ages can slip into a virtual reality headset and try climbing mountains, a wide range of stretching, balloon popping, shooting arrows, or yes, even slicing through fruit that is flying at you in real-time.

The game’s co-creator and computing science professor Eleni Stroulia shared Virtual Gym with counterparts at the Ritsumeikan University, which according to the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies website, is the only academic organization in Japan that offers the field of game studies.


“Our Japanese colleagues proposed to make Virtual Gym more enjoyable and motivating for younger adults, which is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, where people can be stuck at home,” said Stroulia in the news release.

It’s not just sound that the team is looking to experiment with, either; they’re looking at visual effects as well as haptics, or touch effects, in the game.

Virtual Gym is being developed by a U of A computing science research team led by Stroulia and Victor Fernandez, a post-doctoral fellow in the computing science department. While it is designed to entice people to exercise, it’s also collecting game-play data which evaluates how the player is performing. It then tailors the game to their capabilities.

“In our case, we’re working with seniors who may not be able to go out to exercise, to give them an opportunity to maintain the flexibility, balance and level of activity that is good for avoiding frailty,” Stroulia said.

There is no date yet for when the platform will be released to the public.



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