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International News

Dispute Over Anti-Syphilis Campaign Blamed for Departure of Public Health Doctors

September 30, 2008

Brian Mason, leader of the New Democratic Party, says political interference is likely to blame for the departure last spring of three of Alberta's top public health officials. At least one of the doctors resigned because the deputy minister scrapped plans for a broad public awareness campaign targeting syphilis, Mason said.

Alberta is in the midst of a major syphilis outbreak, with cases of the STD roughly doubling to more than 450 in the last two years. The outbreak is widespread: Cases have been diagnosed in people as young as 15 and as old as 81. Several babies in the province have been born with congenital syphilis passed on from their mothers.

Mason said politics should not get in the way of public health. "They're the front line of protecting people against infectious diseases," he said of public health officials. "It's critical that we get to the bottom of the political interference in this campaign to try and limit the outbreak of syphilis."

"I heard there were problems getting approval of the messaging" that officials felt was needed to raise awareness about syphilis, said Dr. Barbara Romanowski, an STD expert at the University of Alberta. "But I'm not sure at what levels these problems originated."

Public awareness of the outbreak is crucial, said Romanowski. "The challenge is to get the message out," she said. "It's not going to go away by itself. We can't afford to be complacent; we need to be aggressive in getting it under control."

At a Monday news conference, Health Minister Ron Liepert announced that the province's chief medical health officer will now report directly to the minister, rather than going through the deputy minister. He refused to discuss specifics of the doctors' departure.

Back to other news for September 2008

Adapted from:
Canadian Press
09.29.2008; Jim MacDonald

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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