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While COVID19 was a deadly and important event, the lessons learned during the pandemic offer solutions to prioritizing cancer (and healthcare) in Canada. Since the onset of the pandemic, social attitudes have shifted and healthcare has increasingly become a priority for Canadians. Forcing decision makers to not only reimagine approaches to healthcare delivery but their role in steering an effective response to the growing burden of cancer in Canada. Using this as an opportunity to make meaningful change, in much the same way that governments and stakeholders have adapted to plagues and pandemics of the past.

The COVID19 pandemic has not only demonstrated the importance of political leadership in managing a public health crisis, but the vital connection between health and the economy. Despite this mutually beneficial relationship, governments, decision makers and payors take a less positive view of health systems expenditure. The enormous pressures exerted on health systems and the healthcare workforce during the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated the inadequate investment in healthcare and the fragmented silos we work in. Despite these challenges, the response to COVID19 was rapid, effective, nimble, and evolving with the evidence. 

COVID19 can serve as a blueprint, taking the lessons learned and applying them to create a cancer system that is responsive, effective, equitable, innovative, and agile. What we learned is when there is sustained political will and commitment, innovation can happen quickly, and transformation can occur rapidly.  Governments must prioritize cancer in their policy agendas, allocate resources and funding (research, treatment, prevention, data, digital health, etc.), work collaboratively with healthcare providers, patients, communities, and industry to develop effective health, industrial, pharmaceutical, and human resource policies, and strategies, while redefining value in cancer care. 

Public health issues are no longer merely a health concern, no longer can ministries of health work in silos to address the growing burden of cancer, but an all hands on deck approach must be utilized with ministries and ministers of health working in conjunction with ministries and ministers of science and innovation, finance, economy and labour, ministries and ministers coordinating senior’s health, as well as those responsible for women’s health must understand the intricate links and work across silos in order to tackle the challenges of cancer care in Canada. By working together, governments can make meaningful progress towards improving outcomes for cancer patients and ensuring that cancer care is a priority within Canada's healthcare system.

This increased awareness and importance of healthcare has created a window of opportunity to prioritize cancer in Canada. Despite the enormous human, social and economic costs, claiming millions of lives worldwide and placing enormous pressure on faltering health systems, the pandemic, by contrast, has also shown us what is possible when the situation necessitates it. The decisive speed and extent of the responses, challenging decision makers to move away from a can’t do to must do mentality, providing a blueprint to strengthen our cancer systems. The pandemic has shown us that when the political will is there, a more robust and adaptable healthcare system is possible, and we must adapt these possibilities into cancer care. We know we can create a stronger, more resilient healthcare system, one that is better prepared to face the challenges of the future, including the growing burden of cancer, but only if our politicians are dedicated to this change. Cancer is not a tomorrow problem, and it requires attention and action today. By applying these lessons to cancer care, we can create a system that is more patient centered and equitable, that is focused on improving patient outcomes, and enhancing the quality of life for Canadians diagnosed and living with cancer and aligned with social benefit.

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