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Indian doc gets Ontario's highest civilian award

Sheela Basrur, who led the fight against the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto, has been given the highest civilian award in Canada. Read on...
IANS | By Gurmukh Singh, Toronto
UPDATED ON APR 11, 2008 02:27 PM IST

Sheela Basrur, the Indian-origin doctor who led the fight against the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Toronto, was on Thursday given the Order of Ontario, the highest civilian award in Canada's most important province.

Basrur was earlier the chief medical officer of health of Ontario and assistant deputy minister for health.

Ontario Lt Governor David Onley conferred the award on Basrur at the Grand River Hospital in the nearby city of Kitchener where she is undergoing treatment for cancer.

Praising Basrur for her services to keep Ontarians healthy, the Lt. Governor said, she had "provided inspiring leadership in the face of heavy responsibilities and daunting expectations. She has compiled a truly remarkable record as a talented health professional, and as a committed public servant".

Thanking the people and government of Ontario for the award, Basrur said: "It's an incredible honour to receive the Order of Ontario.

"Like many others in the field of public health, I get tremendous fulfilment working to safeguard the health of the people in this province. I'm humbled at being recognised for doing work that I enjoy."

She served as Ontario's chief medical officer of health from 2004 to 2006. She quit after being diagnosed with cancer - a rare type of vascular tumour.

After the SARS outbreak, Basrur developed and implemented Operation Health Protection, a three-year action plan to protect and promote health.

She helped create the province's new ministry of health promotion and spearheaded its key initiatives, including the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy and the provincial Action Plan for Healthy Eating and Active Living to address rising obesity among Ontarians.

In six years as medical officer of health for the newly amalgamated City of Toronto, Basrur oversaw the merging of six public health units into one with 1,800 staff and an annual operating budget of $160 million - the largest in Canada.

Among her innovations is the DineSafe programme to inform Torontonians of the food safety rating of restaurants and other eateries.

She also paved the way for a ban on non-essential use of pesticides and for measuring the impact of air pollution on the health of Toronto residents.

Toronto-born Basrur is also credited with creating in Ontario tobacco control strategies that are considered the best in Canada and the US.

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