Broadening the Scope: Healthcare for Indigenous Canadians

Healthcare for Indigenous CanadiansIn Canada, indigenous people face many struggles. One of the most prominent ones is navigating the healthcare system. In the wake of a recent scandal in British Columbia, where hospital workers would guess indigenous patients’ blood alcohol level and the pressures faced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has had to reckon with how its healthcare system treats First Nations and other indigenous peoples.

Policy Background

Canada has implemented some policies such as Aboriginal patient navigators in hospitals to help Indigenous Canadians get access to healthcare resources and make them feel more comfortable while in the hospital. However, some Indigenous patients are too nervous or were never informed of the navigators.

Bias in the system has contributed to issues such as a stroke experienced by an Indigenous patient being confused for alcohol intoxication, leading to his death. Furthermore, information on healthcare distributed by the government isn’t as accessible in Indigenous communities. One notable example of how racism affects health is in the high Indigenous infant mortality rate in Canada. The rate for Indigenous infants is around two to four times higher than those of non-Indigenous descent.

Kind Faces Sharing Places Initiative

A government program has emerged aimed at fighting this statistic called Kind Faces Sharing Places. It has researchers based in Toronto. The main possible solution the program has suggested for implementation is more access to basic needs that both parents and infants will need. Housing, adequate nutritious food and safety are all high on the list.

The reason why Indigenous parents and their children do not have access to these basic needs in the first place is the inequality that has persisted in Canada for centuries. In 2006, it was found that Indigenous Canadians earn about 30% less than the average Canadian. It was also estimated that it would take another 63 years for this gap to close.

More Inclusivity Needed

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared wealth as the “single largest determinant of health.” With less wealth, Indigenous Canadians live in “poorer” areas; areas that generally have worse education and environmental problems. These considerations make it continually difficult to break the cycle of inequality.

Overall, while Canada has been heralded by many for its universal healthcare system that system seems to ostracize and ignore Indigenous and First Nations communities that need it the most. There have been efforts to try and increase access to these communities through Aboriginal patient navigators and Kind Faces Sharing Places, but as evidenced by the recent British Columbia scandal, Canada has a long way to go before it can say it provides adequate health care for all of its people.

– Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr