Dr. Gregory Taylor takes over as chief medical officer of Canada for the next five years, after acting as deputy to that position for the last two years, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Wednesday.
"Dr. Taylor has done a remarkable job as deputy chief public health officer and has earned the confidence of the international community and his public health colleagues across the country," Ambrose said in a statement. "Dr. Taylor's steady guidance and tremendous efforts during disease outbreaks, including H5N1 and Ebola, are proof of the positive experience and expertise he will bring to the table as our new chief public health officer."
Taylor succeeds Dr. David Butler-Jones, the first head of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which was created in 2004 in response to the SARS crisis. Butler-Jones, who suffered a stroke in 2012, stepped down from the position in June 2013, and Taylor had been the agency's acting chief since that time.
"I think PHAC has been on a trajectory for 10 years and I want to make sure we keep on that same trajectory," said Taylor, who lauded his predecessor's "spectacular job beginning the agency and promoting public health on a global stage."
"(They are) big shoes to follow. I certainly hope I can fill those shoes as best as possible," he said from Ottawa.
The bilingual Taylor, 59, began his career in medicine as a family practitioner in Ontario before moving into public health at the national level in 1995. He said the notion of population health has gone through a revolution over the last couple of decades — and it's one he wants to perpetuate during his tenure as PHAC's head.
"I think the most pressing priority is to continue to protect Canadians from Ebola," he said. "The risk continues to be low in Canada and I want to continue that."
The outbreak of Ebola, which has infected at least 5,800 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, killing about 2,800, poses a global threat if transmission of the virus is not soon contained. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.
"The situation is dire, it's severe there and we're trying to do everything we can," said Taylor, noting that Canada is making key contributions to the fight against Ebola, including donating a vaccine that was developed at PHAC's national laboratory in Winnipeg and providing protective gear for health workers at the centre of the outbreak.
Ebola, which can cause fatal hemorrhaging, is spread through contact with an infected person's blood or other bodily fluids. Canada has promised personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and others caring for the growing number of sick, and Taylor said some of those supplies should start being flown out this week to disease hotspots in conjunction with the WHO.
Canada also has supplied a mobile lab to those on the ground in west Africa and hopes to provide another, he said.
"So I think Canada is clearly punching above its weight in terms of our contribution to this."
Taylor said his priority is maximizing the health of Canadians and protecting them from emerging disease threats.
"If there's anything I want to focus on in the next little while, it's building for the future," he said. "We need to be prepared for the unknown. We've got changes that have happened due to climate change where we have West Nile virus, we've got Lyme disease changing Canada and we're not sure what the next one will be.
"So we have to be prepared for the future. We have to train the next generation of public health practitioners, not only at the agency but clearly across Canada."
As head of PHAC, which has a staff of 2,500 and an annual budget of $600 million, Taylor said he also plans to speak more directly to Canadians about issues that may affect their health.
"So Canadians will be hearing more from me personally and more from the agency as we move forward. It's clear in my mind if we're not making a difference to Canada in everyday (life), then we're not really doing our job."
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