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Globe and Mail writer Andre Picard.The Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard has won the highest honour awarded to a non-physician by the Canadian Medical Association.

Mr. Picard, the first journalist to win the Owen Adams Award of Honour in its 38-year history, has covered the health care system in Canada for more than 30 years. The award is given to recognize contributions to advancing health care education of the public and improving the health and wellness of Canadians.

Mr. Picard’s “contributions to advancing medical and health education among the Canadian public provide a lens and perspective that are incredibly helpful in informing health policy,” said Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the CMA. “He’s not only informing the Canadian public, he also informs professionals and experts. Reading his work helps me understand what’s going on. He has the ability to get to the truth.”

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Canada raced to prepare hospitals for a surge in patients, closed its border with the United States and put lockdowns in place, Mr. Picard was one of the first to call for strong physical-distancing measures and for the tracking of infection numbers in order to identify broader trends to inform Canadians.

“When COVID hit, André Picard used a lifetime of journalism experience to lead the country in understanding what was happening,” said David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief. “All of us at The Globe and Mail celebrate this deserved recognition of André’s leadership.”

Mr. Picard says he sees himself as a translator of complex policy issues. Drawing connections between political and medical challenges, Mr. Picard’s reporting spurs policy change and helps Canadians understand how the evolving health care system affects their everyday lives, Dr. Buchman said.

His coverage into the tainted blood scandal – which left roughly 2,000 recipients of blood and blood products infected with HIV-AIDS and another 30,000 infected with the hepatitis C virus – contributed to prompting a public inquiry in the 1990s. This led to significant changes in how drugs are regulated and resulted in an estimated $5-billion in compensation for victims.

Today, Mr. Picard’s voice is integral to The Globe’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To me, health has always been very political,” he said. “What matters to people’s health is if they have income, a roof over their heads, access to condoms to prevent AIDS, and masks and the ability to stay home during COVID.”

The CMA award is named after Owen Adams, the chief policy adviser at the association, who has spent his career informing policy development in human resources for medical practitioners, health system financing and health reform. Previous recipients include health care consultants, engineers, senators, medical researchers and public servants.

“It’s touching to get an award named after Owen Adams because he’s someone that the public doesn’t really know, but he’s a walking encyclopedia of public health,” Mr. Picard said. “He’s been working in the backrooms of policy for longer than I’ve been around.”

Mr. Picard has reported for The Globe since 1987 and has received numerous accolades throughout his career. He is an eight-time nominee for the National Newspaper Awards, Canada’s top journalism prize, winning an NNA for his column writing in 2009. He is also the winner of a Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service Journalism. Mr. Picard was named Canada’s first “Public Health Hero” by the Canadian Public Health Association and a “Champion of Mental Health” by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.

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