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Effect of Residential Schools

For over 150 years, Indigenous children across Canada were forced out of their homes and into Indian Residential Schools. These schools stripped them of their culture, language, and community to assimilate them to Canadian culture. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian, save the man,” as Richard H. Pratt put it.

Despite the terrible conditions and the rampant abuse in these schools, the government and churches could not erase the culture. They were unable to break the spirit of the Indigenous people they sought to “civilize.” While Indigenous People can still feel the effect of residential schools, their strength leaves room for hope.

History

The first Indian Residential School in Canada opened in 1831. Christian Missionaries ran early schools to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism. However, in the 1870s, the government stepped in and began to include treaties regarding these schools. In 1894, attendance became compulsory. Children as young as three years old forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the schools.

Over the next 100 years, more than 130 Indian Residential Schools existed in Canada under state sponsorship. Churches ran the vast majority of these schools; Catholic churches operated three-fifths, the Anglican Church operated one-quarter, and the United and Presbyterian Churches operated the rest.

Over 150,000 children attended these schools. At one point, 75% of children between 7 and 15 years old were attending or had attended Indian Residential Schools. These children faced terrible conditions due to underfunding and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Lasting Effect of Residential Schools

The effects of the abuse and mistreatment in the schools have a lasting impact on the Indigenous population. Studies have shown that survivors of the schools have poorer mental and physical health. There are higher rates of suicide attempts as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes among these individuals.

There is also evidence to suggest that historical trauma has led to negative health impacts for subsequent generations. Historical trauma is when historical events are endured by whole communities and negatively affect the individuals who experience them and the whole group in ways that result in problems for future generations. There are three main characteristics of a historical trauma event including that it was widespread among a specific group, an outgroup perpetrated it with an intentionally destructive purpose and it generates a high level of collective distress.

This historical trauma has led to “enduring links between familial Indian Residential School attendance and a range of health and social outcomes among the descendants of those who attended.” These negative outcomes include higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse and food insecurity as well as                                  lower educational outcomes and income levels. All of these outcomes show that the effect of residential schools is still with us today.

Moving Forward

As more people become aware of the lasting effect of residential schools, now is the time to face these issues and take action to deal with them. One of the first and most basic steps toward healing is for full acknowledgment of the trauma and effect these schools had from the government and the churches. While the Canadian government has issued apologies, the Catholic Church, which operated most of the schools, has not yet come out with a formal apology. They have also refused to release records from the residential schools, which could provide more accurate information on the effect of residential schools.

Steps have been taken to right this wrong. In 2007, a settlement from The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action suit in Canadian history, implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and its conclusion in 2015, over 6,500 witnesses gave their stories to engage and educate the public. The commission also put out a full report on the Indian Residential Schools, which included 94 calls to action.

Beyond acknowledgment, apology and education, other movements are growing in response to the effect of residential schools. One significant movement, the Land Back Movement, pushes the government to return the land that initially belonged to Indigenous people. This transfer of land back to Indigenous people is already happening in some places. The land returned to the Squamish Nation is now being developed into housing in Vancouver on the Senakw project.

Despite the historical trauma and the lasting effect of residential schools, Indigenous people have used their strength to prevent the complete erasure of their culture. While we are still dealing with the negative effects, there is hope for a better future.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in ColombiaColombia’s healthcare system is not perfect but it also far from inadequate. Located in the northernmost part of South America, Colombia has estimable healthcare provision for the country’s people. With both public and private insurance plans, reputable facilities and well-equipped healthcare providers, Colombia sets an example of what sufficient healthcare looks like in a developing country. To understand this better, it is necessary to know some key facts about healthcare in Colombia.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Colombia

  1. Healthcare in Colombia ranked 22nd out of 191 healthcare systems in overall efficiency, according to the World Health Organization. For perspective, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany ranked 37th, 32nd, 30th and 25th respectively.
  2. Colombia’s healthcare system covers more than 95% of its population.
  3. Indigenous people are considered a high-risk population due to insufficient access to healthcare in indigenous communities in Colombia. Specifically, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to this lack of healthcare access and significant tourist activities in indigenous regions increase the risk of spread. Robinson López, Colombian leader and coordinator for Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), said in March 2020 that tourism in indigenous territories in Latin America should stop immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  4. There are inequities in the utilization of reproductive healthcare by ethnic women in Colombia, according to a study. Self-identified indigenous women and African-descendant women in the study had considerably less likelihood of having an adequate amount of prenatal and postpartum care.
  5. The Juanfe Foundation is a Colombian-based organization that promotes the physical, emotional and mental health of vulnerable and impoverished adolescent mothers and their children. So far, the organization has supported more than 250,000 people. The Juan Felipe Medical Center served 204,063 individuals — 20% of the population in Cartagena, Colombia. The organization also saved the lives of 4,449 infants through its Crib Sponsoring Program.
  6. In 2019, four of the top 10 hospitals in Latin America were in Colombia and 23 of the top 55, according to América Economía.
  7. Colombia secured nine million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in December 2020. Combined with the doses it will receive from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc, COVAX and other finalizing deals, Colombia will be able to vaccinate 35 million people within its population of 49.65 million, striding toward herd immunity.

Recognizing Colombia’s Healthcare System

Simultaneously recognizing the current inequities and challenges alongside the positives in Colombia’s healthcare system is the true key to understanding it and the individuals depending on it overall. Despite attention-worthy deficits, healthcare in Colombia stands out in Latin America and in the world as high quality, widespread and respectable. The country’s healthcare is contributing to the well-being of many and the future ahead looks promising.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Cancer and Poverty in AustraliaThe nation of Australia suffers from the highest rates of cancer in the world, but, the disease takes a significant toll on the disadvantaged and rural residents in particular. Impoverished and disadvantaged Australians are 60% more likely to die from cancer due to a lack of finances for a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. The connection between cancer and poverty in Australia can be clearly seen.

The Link Between Cancer and Poverty

The cost of treatment is only one part of the problem. The importance of prevention cannot be overstated and because of a disadvantaged situation, many poor Australians are more likely to smoke cigarettes, be overweight and not get screened for cancers. This leads to more impoverished residents developing a range of cancers that reach later stages before they are diagnosed.

While the country has a decent healthcare system, the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia is significant. Poor citizens are more likely to develop cancer and are the least financially prepared for it. One out of every three Australian cancer patients has to pay out-of-pocket for treatment ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $50,000 AUD. Patients that have private health insurance rather than public medicare often pay far more out-of-pocket, sometimes double, in addition to their regular insurance payments.

Rural Residents in Remote Areas

Residents of Australia’s rural areas often face the worst financial obstacles as they must incur travel expenses and be far from home for extended periods. In 2008, only 6% of oncologists practiced in rural areas, leaving a third of Australians that live in remote regions without immediate access to decent treatment. There were 9,000 more cancer deaths in rural areas than in urban areas over a decade, a 7% higher death rate compared to city residents.

Due to the extensive travel time, many cancer patients from remote regions are forced to quit their jobs increasing the financial burden of treatment. Those that can keep their jobs, often force themselves to continue to work despite their illness and during treatments in order to pay the bills. In many instances, cancer patients must take loans from friends or family. creating further financial obligations.

Indigenous Australians

In addition to rural residents, indigenous citizens also disproportionately die from cancer compared to other residents. Indigenous Australians have a 45% higher death rate from cancer compared to non-indigenous patients. Cancer is extremely underreported by indigenous people in remote or rural areas resulting in a lack of proper data for the government to act on.

Addressing the Link Between Cancer and Poverty

To reduce the mortality rates of cancer patients, the government must address the correlation between cancer and poverty in Australia. As of 2017, only 1.3% of Australia’s health budget is allocated for cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The country must invest in prevention as well as rapid-access cancer aid for both patients and caretakers.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia and Cancer Council Australia are working to improve cancer treatment in rural areas of Australia. Solutions to diminish the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia include new methods of diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth and shared care, in which the patient’s primary physician works with an oncologist to limit travel for treatment, help cut down on costs for struggling patients.

Cancer organizations in Australia have worked with the government to set up the regional cancer center (RCC) initiative across the country to make cancer care more accessible for residents living in rural areas. Since 2010, 26 regional cancer centers have opened to help patients living in remote locations.

Prioritizing the Health of Rural Residents

For the mortality rates of impoverished or rural cancer patients to lessen, the government must invest in prevention as well as access for rural residents. Above all, for Australia to successfully provide aid for cancer patients there must be accurate data collection on cancer and poverty in Australia to properly allocate funds for all demographics.

— Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Quinoa Supports Farmers in PeruQuinoa is a species of goosefoot original to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. For more than 6,000 years, Peruvians and Bolivians considered quinoa a sacred crop because of its resistance to high altitudes, heat, frost and aridness. Because of its sudden rise in worldwide popularity, the U.N. declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” to recognize the indigenous people of the Andes, who continue to preserve quinoa for present and future generations. Quinoa supports farmers and livelihoods in Peru.

History of Peru’s Quinoa

Due to its high nutritional qualities, quinoa has been grown and consumed as a staple crop by people throughout the Andean region. However, when the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s and sent farmers to gold mines in Peru and Bolivia, quinoa production declined sharply. The year 2013 marked a turning point in quinoa-producing countries. The crop surged in popularity because of its superb nutritional value, containing all eight essential amino acids. It is also low in carbohydrates but high in unsaturated fats, fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. The sudden demand for Quinoa from the U.S. and Europe increased the price of the grain from $3 in 2010 to $6.75 in 2014.

The Quinoa Market Boom

Today, quinoa supports farmers in Peru, as Peru is one of the world leaders in quinoa production and exports. In 2016, Peru produced 80,000 tons of the crop, about 53.3% of the world’s volume, with 47% of quinoa exports worldwide.

In 2012, Peru exported $31 million worth of quinoa. Two years later, the export value of quinoa was six times that amount, at $197 million. In 2016, however, the export value dropped to $104 million. This was reflected in the average price of quinoa worldwide. In 2012, a kilo of quinoa cost $3.15. In 2014, the price shot up to $6.74 per kilo. By 2017, however, the price had dropped dramatically to $1.66 per kilo.

The demand and price fluctuations had several negative effects, including reducing the welfare of households. When quinoa prices fell, total household food consumption decreased by 10% and wages fell by 5%.

Though traditionally grown for household consumption only, the global demand for quinoa encouraged farmers to use their fields for quinoa production only. The monocropping negatively affects the overall health of the fields, as nutrients do not get replenished as they would by rotating crops.

5 Ways Quinoa Supports Farmers in Peru

With the help of several U.N. agencies and national and local governments within Peru, a program called “Andean Grains” was implemented in Ayacucho and Puno – rural areas with high levels of poverty, where 78% of Peru’s quinoa is produced, to create a value chain of quinoa production to increase the welfare of farmers. Through the program, quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways:

  1. Income of rural quinoa producers increased by 22%. By focusing on producing organic quinoa and fulfilling a niche market demand, rural Peruvian farmers remain competitive in the global market. The program trained more than 2,000 producers in cooperative management and financial education and certified several farmers for organic production.
  2. The production, promotion and consumption of Quinoa improved. By implementing technological alternatives, including establishing technical standards for producing organic fertilizer, farmers increased their crop yields, improving the food quality and nutrition of the grain and making the crop more available to local communities. In Puno alone, yields increased by 13% through the organic certification program.
  3. More farmers joined cooperatives, increasing their market power. The program taught farmers about selecting suppliers, managing credit, how to negotiate when signing a contract and how to commercialize their organic quinoa. By standardizing the production of organic quinoa, poor farmers could negotiate better market prices under a collective brand. The cooperatives also promoted the national consumption of quinoa and helped sustainable development of the quinoa value chain.
  4. The program empowered female farmers. Women make up 31% of agricultural producers and more than 50% of participants in the program were women. They were able to accumulate up to $4,800 through Unions of Credit and Savings, which they used to buy natural fertilizers to protect their lands from desertification.
  5. The program participants’ welfare increased. In areas of Peru where quinoa was consumed before the boom, a 10% increase in the price of the quinoa increased the welfare of the average household by 0.7%. The additional income to quinoa producers in turn allowed them to spend more. Household consumption also increased by 46%.

Quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways. After the implementation of the U.N. “Andean Grains” program, the income and wealth of Peruvian farmers increased. By joining cooperatives, both male and female producers compete in the global competitive market. Today, quinoa continues to be celebrated as a vital part of Peru’s economy and culture.

Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in NunavutAlthough Canada is an undeniably prosperous nation, some territories experience levels of poverty disproportionate to other areas. Poverty in Nunavut is deeper and more severe than in any other part of Canada and it affects First Nation, Inuit and Métis people at higher levels than any other group.

Poverty for Indigenous People

Overall, 25% of Inuit children live below the poverty line. As of 2010, 56% of the Inuit population was classified as food insecure, compared to the 14.7% that represents the Canadian average. This is not only due to the loss of historical lands and resources, but cultural heritage, traditional government and the impositions of colonization on traditional lifestyles and social structures. However, in recent years, local communities as well as government forces have worked to form innovative policy and poverty reduction techniques. This not only is creating important change in many communities but comes with a local catch-phrase: the Inuit principle, “Piliriqatigiingniq“, referring to people working together well, motivated by shared values, goals,and philosophies.

Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy

In 2016, the government of Canada instated a poverty reduction strategy, aimed to reduce Canada’s poverty rate by 50% by 2030. Importantly, this policy outlines initiatives that specifically reflect First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspectives on poverty and decision making. The priorities outlined included support for improved national housing, indigenous childcare and early learning as well as cooperation with local leaders.

Canada Child Benefit

The Canada Child Benefit works to reduce childhood poverty by helping financially support families that are experiencing poverty. Due to the marked success of the program, the number of children living in poverty decreased by 278,000 in just two years. Because Nunavut’s child poverty rate of 31.2% is well above the Canadian average of 18.6%, The Canada Child benefit directly impacts many Inuit, Métis and First Nation families.

Canada’s First National Housing Strategy

Over the course of 10 years, this initiative will invest $40 billion to fix broken housing, provide affordable housing and significantly reduce homelessness for Canadians in need. Additionally, the National Housing Strategy will be equitable with investments, ensuring 33% of the budget goes towards housing for First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples as well as programs for women and children. This type of investment is the first of its kind for Canada and promises real change for many. https://www.oecd.org/els/family/child-well-being/Bussiere.pd

The Makimaniq Plans

The Makimaniq Plan 2 expresses a shared approach, “Piliriqatigiingniq”, to overcome the challenges faced by native people. This includes more adaptation to Inuit ways and better collaboration with the government among other ways people can work together to reduce poverty. This also covers strengthening local economies, increased access and amplification of community voices and a greater emphasis and investment in health and well-being. These are all problems that have significantly affected native people for generations and need to be addressed in order to create real change. Through increased community and government teamwork, there is a tangible method and drive to change conditions for people living in poverty in Nunavut. This is an important step for the Inuit people, as Nunavut is the only territory in Canada with a poverty reduction strategy that specifically targets Inuit interests.

Working Together

For the issue of poverty in Nunavut, “Piliriqatigiingniq” is more than just working together to achieve a common goal. It means growing as a country and as people and working to develop within communities, the lasting bonds of respect and teamwork to foster a better present and more equitable future. Due to changes already implemented, thousands of people’s standards of living have increased in the region.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

 Brazil’s indigenous population

Brazil’s indigenous population includes nearly 900,000 people and more than 300 unique groups. They face a litany of issues including discrimination, threats to their native lands and extreme poverty. Here are six facts about Brazil’s indigenous population.

6 Facts About Brazil’s Indigenous Population

  1. Indigenous people can be found living in areas ranging from Brazil’s cities to remote regions of the Amazon rainforest. Totaling over 300 groups, they represent a diverse and varying subsect of the Brazilian population. Depending on a group’s culture, history or location, they encounter different problems and require separate solutions. This is essential to keep in mind when discussing issues facing Brazil’s indigenous population as a whole.
  2. Indigenous Brazilians endure severe forms of discrimination and prejudice. As recently as the 1960s, there was a coordinated effort to eradicate Brazil’s indigenous population entirely. The “Figueiredo report” details the genocide, torture, rape and enslavement of indigenous people during a 30 year period. Today, the period’s brutal legacy lives on. “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” Brazil’s recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro once said.
  3. Due to discrimination, Brazil’s indigenous population’s access to education and health care is limited compared to their non-indigenous compatriots. A 2008 United Nations report highlighted the low education and health standards endured by this population. Additionally, reports allege that they are often denied care by public health services due simply to their affiliation with indigenous groups.
  4. Many of Brazil’s indigenous population have been crowded into reservations that are constantly shrinking in size. Brazilian businesses and the government have partnered to continue deforestation of the Amazon, which is home to many indigenous tribes. The largest tribe left is the Guarani, with roughly 51,000 members, but most of their land has been replaced by cattle farms and sugar cane plantations. Armed bands of “grileiros” have recently launched attacks on indigenous communities, pushing them further into the Amazon, burning the rainforest, and planting grass for cattle. The NGO Repórter Brasil published a report in 2019 that found that 14 indigenous communities are currently being invaded or are seriously threatened by one.
  5. These conditions have led to a reality where many of Brazil’s indigenous population live in extreme poverty. While no official count exists, it is widely maintained that indigenous groups face poverty at a much higher rate than the rest of Brazil.
  6. NGOs such as Survival International and Cultural Survival provide hope for Brazil’s struggling indigenous population. These NGOs attempt to lobby international organizations and human rights groups on issues of indigenous concern, such as the issues outlined above. Both groups identify international action as the only viable path left for indigenous Brazilians. Cultural Survival works with indigenous groups to develop media and advocacy projects; thus far, the organization has invested $2.5 million into indigenous groups. Further, the team actively trains members to become community radio journalists, allowing for indigenous groups to have a voice in the media.

Pushed from native lands and facing serious threats to life, many members of indigenous groups are doing what they can to survive in a nation often hostile and violent towards them. “Today, we are seeing the biggest attack on our rights in Brazilian history,” said indigenous lawmaker Joênia Wapichana.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

 

Epilepsy, Indigenous
Epilepsy represents an important public health issue, particularly in low-income communities where significant disparities are present in the care available to patients with epilepsy.

Where there is annually between 30 to 50 per 100 thousand people in the general population in high-income countries who suffer from epilepsy, this figure could be two times higher in low- and middle-income countries. Up to 80 percent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income communities.

Due to the higher incidence of psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies and missed medication, poverty-stricken countries are prompted with greater seizure triggers, situations that precipitate seizures. Mortality associated with epilepsy in low-income countries is substantially higher because of untreated epileptic seizures.

According to a study by The World Bank, indigenous peoples are more likely to be poor as opposed to the general population due to their likelihood of living in rural areas and lack of education. Therefore, what can be said about their epilepsy rates?

Epilepsy in Indigenous Populations

Within the indigenous populations of Bolivia, the prevalence of this non-communicable disease is 12.3 persons out of 1000. This prevalence is also reflected within Canada’s First Nations, wherein 122 per 100,000 persons were found to have epilepsy, twice more than the non-indigenous populations. The numbers were even greater among the Australian Aboriginals, with over 44 percent of patients who were admitted to hospitals identifying as indigenous.

Despite the similarity in epilepsy syndromes among the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, the former presents with more serious degrees of the disease when diagnosed. Research has stated this is related to the inequitable access of healthcare resulting from geographic isolation and cultural issues to treatment.

Geographic Isolation and Epilepsy

The Bolivian Guaraní live in the Bolivian Chaco, a hot and semi-arid region of the Río de la Plata Basin. This area is sparsely populated, but of the 49 percent of indigenous persons, 68.9 percent of them live in conditions of poverty, with everyday issues of energy and sanitation.

Nevertheless, in 2012, an educational campaign directed to the Bolivian Guaraní has been implemented by general practitioners to teach the population about the main causes of epilepsy, its diagnosis, treatment and first aid. They also target the social stigma that exists around the disease.

With the help of programs like Bono Juana Azurduy, Programa Mi Salud, Ley de Gratuidad and Seguros Departamentales, there has been an increase in the social security and improvement in the treatment for epilepsy among the geographically isolated community.

Cultural Issues

Apart from geographic isolation, indigenous populations such as the Aboriginals of Australia also have traditional health beliefs about the causes of epilepsy. For instance, environmental factors like the moon are seen as an epileptic precursor. They also associate a connection with the supernatural due to transgressions as causes of the diseases, making it more difficult to find treatment for the neurological condition.

When such cultural issues arise due to a difference in beliefs, it is important for general practitioners and patients to find a suitable course of treatment that is acceptable for both parties. Various clinics in Far North Queensland, where many Aboriginals reside, have assessed and managed the situation through gathering as much information as possible about the person’s original function and the impact of the disease on them.

They also advise other hospitals treating Aboriginal people to identify and implement strategies, whether they be medication, behavioral, environmental or social, to be developed in conjunction with the patient, their families and communities. In time, it is believed that this will lead to the best interim solution for all parties in the support network and the patient themselves.

Within the Aboriginals living in Canada, the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) has also successfully delivered treatment for epilepsy patients by working as a liaison between service agencies and clients to find the best possible treatment. Their services extend to alleviate anxiety from patients who have previously had negative experiences with healthcare.

Moving Forward

Knowing that epilepsy is a neurological condition that receives substantial stigma in indigenous communities, there is a barrier for patients to have access to biomedical treatment and have it become integrated within the society they live in. Therefore, in order to reduce the burden of epilepsy in poor regions of the world, and especially within indigenous populations, hospitals, non-governmental organizations and the government have much to do. Aid can come in the form of risk factor prevention, offering check-up clinics in rural areas, stigma-reducing educational programs, improving access to biomedical diagnosis and treatment as well as providing a continuous supply of good quality anti-epileptic drugs to patients who need it, irrespective of their background.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Pixabay

Education for Indigenous People
The indigenous community of many countries often becomes the most disadvantaged group of people in the country. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only about 40 percent of aboriginal children complete their secondary education.

The U.N. is promoting the need for greater access to education for indigenous people with events in many countries around the world including Colombia, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Peru and Sri Lanka. One of the major hurdles facing the global education sector in order to provide education for indigenous communities around the world is providing an education that fulfills their linguistic and cultural necessities.

Many indigenous children are unable to take full advantage of the education provided to them by their country because of linguistic and cultural barriers. A country’s educational system most often utilizes their national language, which disregards native languages spoken by indigenous communities. Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, history lessons focus on teaching history from the colonial empirical standpoint versus the perspective of the indigenous community.

By not providing the tools necessary for public education for indigenous people, they will be marginalized in the wider community. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Indigenous peoples regularly face stigmatization of their cultural identity and lack of respect and recognition for their heritage and values, including in textbooks and other educational materials.” This creates an uncomfortable learning environment for indigenous students in schools where they are often the minority.

The lack of assistance towards the indigenous community is most evidently seen in the statistics that reveal that indigenous people represent only five percent of the global population but account for 15 percent of the world’s most impoverished according to the World Bank.

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) reports that in Latin America alone there are about 41 million, or about 6.3 percent, of the region’s population that identify as indigenous people. Most governments in the region have chosen not to accommodate the needs of the students belonging to this demographic which explains why graduation rates are much lower compared to the national majority population.

When discussing countries like Bolivia, where 10.6 million of the population, or 62 percent, identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, it’s a problem that must be addressed. UNICEF stated that in Bolivia, a non-indigenous child in an urban zone belonging to the upper-middle class completes approximately 14.4 years in education, while an indigenous girl in a rural zone from a low-income family is only able to complete two years of education.

All indigenous people are at a disadvantage in Australia. Participation of indigenous 15 to 19-year-olds in higher education was 60 percent in 2013, below the 80 percent participation for all Australians in the same age group. The numbers concerning indigenous communities can be disheartening but the U.N. has called on all countries to improve the lives of 370 million indigenous people.

Although currently, indigenous communities worldwide have been marginalized, they are finally receiving the international recognition they deserve in terms of education. Experts suggest that the solution to the problem lies in providing education for indigenous people that is linguistically and culturally fitting for each community. Special attention is being given to girls and women because they are at an even greater disadvantage and possibly in more danger than their male counterparts.

The U.N. has declared a firm position on the issue concerning the report that is due to be released later this year on the education of indigenous communities worldwide. The World Bank has also shown solidarity by working actively with indigenous people worldwide on a number of issues. The topic of educating indigenous people is now part of the global education conversation.

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr