Originally created in 1919 as the Department of Health, and merged with the Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment to form the Department of Pensions and National Health in 1928, the Department of National Health and Welfare was established in 1944. It became the Department of Health, or Health Canada, in June 1993. The department generally has charge of matters relating to the preservation and modernization of the health care system and promotion of the health of Canadians. Specific responsibilities include communication and dissemination of information to support disease prevention and promotion of healthy lifestyles, investigation and research into public health and surveillance, prevention, control and research of disease outbreaks, supervision of public-health facilities, improvement of sanitation and industrial conditions, the regulation of food, drugs, environmental and pesticide safety, and the provision of a range of services to FIRST NATIONS and INUIT. Health Canada oversees the federal government's jurisdictions in all areas of health care in Canada and administers nationwide standards of medical service established in the Canada Health Act.
In recognition of cross-border health impacts and global public health security, Health Canada has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Mexico, Cuba and China, and participates in dialogues and co-operative initiatives with counterparts in other countries. These include the Global Health Security Initiative, which involves G7 countries, Mexico, the Word Health Organization (WHO) and European Union (EU), and the Trilateral Cooperation Initiative. The Global Health Security Initiative assists in providing for health agencies in Canada, the United States and Mexico, and co-ordinates efforts in areas of compliance, emergency preparedness and response, health fraud, laboratory co-operation and training. Health Canada has also been active in global pandemic influenza readiness and spearheading an international meeting of ministers of health in October 2005. That meeting produced unanimous support for the Ottawa Statement and called upon developed and developing countries to implement national strategies to prepare for potential pandemics. Since 1996, Health Canada has published an online weekly "FluWatch" bulletin and map that provides a national snapshot of influenza activity to facilitate early detection, assist health care professionals and Canadians, monitor new strains and sub-types of the virus, and contribute virological surveillance information to the WHO and its vaccine-development initiatives.
A 1999 report from the Auditor General noted that Health Canada was not equipped to handle outbreaks of deadly viruses coming into the country. A 2006 audit concluded that the department was still unable to meet its responsibilities due to insufficient compliance and enforcement activities, the absence of measurable performance targets and resource limitations. The department's 2007-08 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) included regulatory streamlining and modernization in support of the Government of Canada's goal to promote a stronger economy.
With a workforce of approximately 8700 employees across the country and an annual budget exceeding $3 billion, Health Canada maintains a presence at the provincial, municipal and community levels. The agency is responsible to Parliament through the Minister of Health and provides policy leadership and co-ordination among bodies such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada.