InterGovWorld.com’s Spotlight series profiles Executives, decision-makers and their initiatives across all levels of Canadian government.
(PHAC Photo / Alain Desroches)
In the premiere of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight series which profiles Executives across all levels of Canadian government, Director General Dr. Arlene King of the Pandemic Preparedness Secretariat at the Public Health Agency of Canada speaks with InterGovWorld senior writer Lisa Williams about her previous work, as well as lessons learned from SARS.
Q) How did the previous work you’ve done prepare you for your current role?
A) I was originally a family physician, and did my family medicine residency training at the University of Calgary. As family medicine residents we were sort of exposed to the role of the family physician with not only managing patients that have the flu sometimes, but also involved in surveillance activities for influenza for instance.
That was my teeth cutting with respect to flu, after that I was in family medicine in Alberta for about five years and dealt with a whole spectrum of issues when I was there as a family doctor…I always particularly liked infectious disease work even when I was in family medicine.
Further education and training…
I then went to the University of British Columbia (UBC) and did a masters in health sciences, really motivated by being able to address issues of prevention and disease, because I felt much of what I was seeing in family practice was preventable.
After I completed my masters at UBC I then did a fellowship in community medicine and went on to become the Medical Officer of Health initially as an associate in Vancouver and then as the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the City of Burnaby where I did a very broad public health mandate in that position.
I decided I needed to focus a little more, so I went to the BC Centre for Disease Control, and I started out doing mostly infectious disease epidemiology…and then went onto deal more along the lines of immunization and respiratory infectious disease issues in that capacity.
In 1997 when the H5N1 influenza outbreak occurred in poultry in Hong Kong, I was the lead for flu at the BC Centre for Disease Control. At that point in time we had been doing some draft planning for pandemic influenza but it really was just a draft plan.
The H5N1 situation in Hong Kong at that time resulted in 18 cases and six deaths…It did not spur the development of a pandemic virus, but of course everyone was extremely worried about that happening. So that was the catalyst for significant activity on a national level with respect to preparing for pandemic flu.
I decided in 1999 that I would go to work for the federal government because I was interested in more national level work at that time and came to Ottawa from Vancouver.
The pandemic work was escalating at that point in time and by 2001 we (the feds) had put in place a contract to produce pandemic flu vaccine when a pandemic occurred and we were probably the first country in the world to ensure that there was a domestic supply for the creation of production of flu vaccine when a pandemic occurred..
The Pandemic Influenza Committee was created in 2002. That committee has been involved with coordinating, developing, and leading a lot of the scientific work on pandemic preparedness in the country since that time.
I was still at that time the Director of the Immunization and Respiratory Infections division in what was initially Health Canada, and then SARS hit in February of 2003 so I’m sort of fast forwarding a bit, but essentially we sort of converted the Pandemic Influenza Committee into what we called FPT SARS (Federal