Dr. Miriam Klassen, the Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Perth District Health Unit, joined CFUW Stratford on a very snowy night in February to discuss women’s public health issues. Dr. Klassen was born in Brazil, the daughter of refugees from the former Soviet Union. She spent 20 years in general practice as a physician with the North Perth Family Health Team and had a family practice in Listowel for more than 12 years. She achieved a Masters of Public Health in 2011. She is the mother of four daughters, one of whom was a refugee from Afghanistan. Dr. Klassen brings a global perspective to her job as Medical Officer of Health for Perth County.
Dr. Klassen defined health as “a state of complete physical and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” There are numerous factors that determine an individual’s health, including biological, life-style and social factors. By far the most important social determinant of health is financial income. Essentially, poor people have poor health. This pertains directly to women’s health as women in our society tend to be poorer than men, earning on average 70% of what men earn. This trend continues despite the fact that women are in fact getting more education than men (60% of University graduates are women). Single mothers tend to be the poorest people and therefore the most vulnerable to health problems. Although women live longer on average than men (83 years versus 79 years) women have more chronic health conditions than men.
Dr. Klassen noted the huge advancements in health that have been made over the past 100 years. The average life span of a Canadian in 1913 was 47 years. Today it is 82 years! This increase in life expectancy is due largely to improvements in Public Health. Public health focuses primarily on the prevention of disease and promotion of health. The top public health achievements have been made by focusing on the following areas: vaccinations, motor vehicle safety, workplace safety, control of infectious diseases, decline in death from stroke, food safety, healthy babies and mothers, family planning, fluoridation of water, and smoking cessation.
Dr. Klassen’s thoughtful presentation highlighted the importance of continued efforts to improve the health of people in Perth County, in a manner that is equitable and accessible to all.
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