More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see evidence that this area, SDG Counties specifically, is left behind or treated as an afterthought in the Ontario government’s pandemic response. The most recent being the Ministry of Health’s roll out of COVID-19 antiviral therapies.
Last week, the ministry released a list of more than 700 pharmacies in Ontario where those who have tested positive for COVID-19 – and are at the highest risk of serious complications – can receive no-cost medication like Paxlovid. This is great news for Ontarians as the province is now in its sixth wave of the pandemic, this time fueled by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant. Great news unless you live in South Dundas or North Dundas. Here a positive COVID-19 test means driving to Cardinal, Long Sault or Ottawa for this treatment.
This is not the first time that we have seen this form of uneven roll out of a pandemic-related program or response. A year ago, the province’s roll out of pharmacy-based vaccinations had a similar theme. SDG Counties (including Cornwall) had fewer locations than in neighbouring Leeds-Grenville Counties (including Brockville).
For the province’s rollout of antiviral therapies, 14 pharmacies in Leeds-Grenville are able to offer them and only eight pharmacies in SDG. According to Statistics Canada, the Leeds-Grenville population Census Area is about 10,000 fewer than that of SDG. This health unit region, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, has had more infections, more outbreaks and more deaths than the Leeds-Grenville-Lanark Health Unit area. Yet an imbalance continues.
Further compounding matters, Winchester is the only town in Eastern Ontario that has a hospital and a COVID-19 assessment centre where antiviral treatments are not available at a pharmacy in the same community, or even county.
There are other areas of the province, primarily rural, where there is a disproportional handling of access to testing and treatment for COVID-19. Pleas for equity from medical officials and municipal politicians fall on deaf ears at the upper levels of government, primarily the Ontario government as health care is a provincial responsibility.
The solution is not difficult. It is simple math. When resources are limited, divide equally across all areas. As resources become more plentiful, continue to divide equitably based on population. Providing support – whether it be medicinal, financial, or by other means – should always be done on a proportional basis. That is the fairest way to ensure all Ontarians have opportunity for access.
Politicians at the upper levels of government claim to fight for this region’s “Fair Share” when it comes to programs. That fight fizzles when it comes to access to health care.
It is easy for the current government to throw money at problems when it comes to building new buildings. But clearly math is difficult when dealing with providing medication and access to services.
Ontario has had a disproportionate response to COVID-19. More than two years into the pandemic, as case numbers from the sixth wave send infection levels and hospital numbers higher, it is time the province starts using proportional math to make decisions, rather than politics.