Public Health Report Quietly Released in Canada

Public Health Report Quietly Released in Canada

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John Ahni Schertow
August 3, 2008

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, released his first Annual Report on the State of Public Health in Canada a few weeks ago.

There’s been little to no commentary about the report since it was released — be it from the government or the general public. It’s almost like it doesn’t even exist — a sad irony considering its purpose is “to inform Canadians and stimulate discussion of the many factors that contribute to good health and what can be done individually and collectively to advance public health in Canada.”

The report offers some particularly important points that are seldom mentioned anywhere else. For instance, that “cultural preservation and continuity, as well as living in communities with self-government, settled land claims, and access to self-managed education, health, cultural and policing services” has positive benefits to indigenous peoples health. How many government officials do you know that would dare something like that!? Perhaps that’s why the report’s not getting any attention. Too much truth.

The report also shows a number of statistics concerning the health of Canadians and Indigenous People. Unfortunately, that’s where it falls apart — by failing to provide a full and accurate picture of indigenous peoples health in Canada.

For example, the report glosses over the ongoing housing and water crises, the substance abuse epidemic, the physical and sexual abuse problems, and the ongoing long-term (cumulative) effect of environmental contaminants like mercury, PCB’s, dioxins, oil and several hundered more toxins.

If there is to be a genuine discussion about “our” health, there first has to be a full disclosure of facts.

A better look at the state of Indigenous Peoples health

Using the report as a backdrop, here’s a more complete look at the state of Indigenous Peoples health (minus the issue of environmental contaminants, because there is no detailed information about this. See, “Indigenous Land: Canada’s Toxic Storehouse” for more on this issue.).

1. “Inadequate housing and homelessness continue to plague Aboriginal Peoples…”

According to the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s , Preliminary Findings of the First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey 2002-2003, Housing density is twice that of Canadians. Nearly 1 in 4 adults on reserve live in crowded homes; 423,000 people live in 89,000 overcrowded, substandard and rapidly deteriorating housing units; 5,486 of the 88,485 houses on-reserve are without sewage service; and Mold contaminates almost half of First Nations households. Asbestos is another major problem

2. “First Nations on reserve report lower rates of alcohol use (65.6%) but higher rates of heavy drinking than the overall population. More than 42% of First Nations youth on reserve report using alcohol and 27% report heavy drinking at least once a month. In addition, approximately 64% of First Nations reported that no progress was being made within these communities on reducing both frequent alcohol and drug use.”

For more detailed information see the report, “Addictive Behaviours Among Aboriginal People in Canada” by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

3. “Infant mortality rates among Aboriginal Peoples and those living in Canada’s northern communities are estimated to be higher than the general population. The infant mortality rate among First Nations people living on reserve is estimated at 7 deaths per 1,000 live births. This rate may be an underestimate because of current limitations associated with data coverage and quality related to Aboriginal infant births and deaths in Canada. Recent research related to First Nations in British Columbia puts the estimate as high as 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births for First Nations living in rural areas.”

4. Concerning water, “There are still challenges to be addressed, particularly in small and remote communities and on First Nations reserves.”

An incredible understatement. As of July 25th, 2008there are 102 indigenous communities across Canada under a Drinking Water Advisory (As of May 17, 2009, the number is 112). It’s quickly becoming an emergency situation that calls for no less than international aid.

5. “Aboriginal Peoples… have higher rates of many chronic diseases than the Canadian average. Figure 3.14 [to the right] shows that, with few exceptions, the proportion of First Nations adults living on a reserve who report being diagnosed with some chronic conditions is higher than that of the overall population.”

6. “The highest smoking rates can be found among Canadians with lower income, Aboriginal populations and people living in Northern Canada, which likely contributes to the higher rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases found in these populations.”

7. “Among Aboriginal Peoples living off reserve 38% of adults and 20% of children are obese (based on measured height and weight). For First Nations living on reserve or in First Nations communities, 36% of both adults and children are considered to be obese based on self-reported height and weight measurements.”

For more detailed information see the journal article, “Overweight in First Nations Children: Prevalence, Implications, and Solutions” by Noreen D. Willows

8. “Among First Nations adults living on reserve or in First Nations communities, the [Type II] diabetes prevalence is approximately 20% ? four times the rate of the general population.” The report goes on to say that Type II diabetes “is strongly related to… obesity.” Scientific evidence is mounting which suggests the actual cause of diabetes is in fact: exposure to dioxin, PCB’s and other Persistant Organic Pollutants (POP’s). Obesity, while remaining a health problem, may only be a vehicle for the pollutants. With that in mind, consider Health Canada’s estimate that by 2021, more than 25% of the indigenous population will have Type II diabetes.

For more on this, see the 2007 article Exposure to persistent organochlorine pollutants and type 2 diabetes mellitus, the 2006 Report Persistent organic pollutants and the burden of diabetes (click ‘show quoted text’), John H.W. Hummel’s 2000 Report for the Health Project of the Kahnawake Environment Office, and the article Downstream disease on This Magazine. For more general information on diabetes, visit the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project website

9. “Some infectious diseases are more prevalent among Aboriginal Peoples than the general population. In 2006, there were 27.4 reported new active and relapsed tuberculosis cases per 100,000 in the Aboriginal population, compared to just 5 per 100,000 in the total Canadian population.”

For more information, see Tuberculosis (TB) Information and Prevention fact sheet by the Assembly of First Nations

10. 209 Aboriginal Peoples also accounted for more than 27% of all reported positive HIV tests in 2006 in the 11 provinces/territories that report ethnicity with their tests, although they are estimated to make up only 6% of the population in those provinces/territories.”

For more information, visit the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network

11. “Reported spousal abuse among Aboriginal women and men off reserve is much higher than the national average (e.g. 21% compared to 7% for physical and sexual abuse in 2004).”

On reserve, the numbers are even higher, as noted in the July 2008 policy paper, “Addressing violence against Aboriginal Women, the Elderly, and Children” by Native Women’s Association of Canada. A) “Aboriginal people are three and one half times more likely to be victims of spousal violence than non-Aboriginal individuals. One survey found 24% of Aboriginal women said that they have suffered violence from a current or previous spouse or common law partner in the five years prior to the study.” B) “Aboriginal women are more likely than non-Aboriginal women to have suffered a physical injury (51% versus 42%), taken time away from their daily activities (44% compared to 27%), or experienced ten or more separate incidents of violence from the same perpetrator (27% versus 18%)”

12. “Social exclusion is experienced when some people or groups have limited control and access to social, economic, political and cultural resources. Aboriginal Peoples have a long history of unequal access to and control over education and health care, as well as lands and natural resources, which has resulted in social disconnection. Health can be influenced by historical and cultural experiences that not only affect individuals but whole communities. For example, residential schools had a significant impact on the health and well-being of many First Nations adults and consequently their children and grandchildren. Almost half of residential school survivors report that the experience negatively affected their mental and physical health through isolation from family, separation from community, and a loss of identity and language. Among their children, 43% believe the residential school experience had a negative effect on their parents’ parenting skills.”

For more about the effect of residential schools, see the 2005 report, “Reclaiming Connections: Understanding Residential School Trauma Among Aboriginal People” by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

13. “High rates of suicide among First Nations people, particularly among youth, are linked to social exclusion and disconnection from their traditions and culture. However, research suggests that it is a mistake to assume these challenges are systemic within First Nations communities and points to protective factors that can reduce these risks. Research from British Columbia has revealed that 90% of Aboriginal youth suicides in the province occur in just 10% of First Nations communities. Suicide rates in these communities sometimes reach 800 times the Canadian average, while more than half of the First Nations communities in the province have not had any suicides in many years. Further research on language groups and community identity suggest that cultural preservation and continuity, as well as living in communities with self-government, settled land claims, and access to self-managed education, health, cultural and policing services [in other words, sovereignty] all have positive impacts on the health of the local population. The British Columbia studies found that communities with some level of self government and/or multiple community control factors present had the lowest rates of suicide.”

For more information, see the 2007 report, “Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada” by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

14. “Access to health care is also an issue for Aboriginal populations who live off-reserve, as they are less likely than the overall population (77% compared to 79%) to regularly visit a physician, and more likely to report having unmet health care needs (20% compared to 13%). First Nations adults living on-reserve cite barriers to accessing the health care system ranging from extensive wait times, services not covered by benefits, a shortage of doctors/nurses in the area and the cost of transportation, to complaints that services provided were inadequate or not culturally sensitive.”

Read about the recent call for an independent health care system for Indigenous People

Thanks to Turtle Island News for putting together the initial list. If you know of any more figures or reports, please don’t hesitate leaving a comment below.

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