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The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s agency for health research. CIHR’s mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to nearly 12,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada invested approximately $29.9 million in 2007-08 in Aboriginal health-related research across Canada.
- Life expectancy in predominantly Inuit-inhabited areas in 2001 was over 12 years less than for Canadians as a whole. For First Nations people, life expectancy was 7.4 years less for men and 5.2 years less for women compared with the Canadian average.
- A survey of First Nations communities estimated the prevalence of diabetes among adults was 19.7% - almost four times that of the general population. Among non-reserve Aboriginal populations, diabetes was most prevalent in First Nations people (8.3%) followed by Métis (6%) and Inuit people (2.3%).
- Although the rate of new HIV infections has gone down in the Canadian population, it has increased in First Nations and Inuit populations. Poverty, substance abuse and limited access to health services play a role in the higher incidence.
- Tuberculosis is a major public health problem for First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations, all of whom are at higher risk of living in overcrowded dwellings. First Nations people living on reserves have TB notification rate 8 to 10 times higher than non-Aboriginal Canadians.
(Sources: Statistics Canada; Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch; Public Health Agency of Canada: Canada Communicable Disease Report; Assembly of First Nations)
Lack of language linked to suicides
An inability to speak one’s own language appears to be linked to higher youth suicide levels in First Nations communities. Aboriginal youth suicide rates vary substantially across British Columbia and so do rates of knowledge of Aboriginal languages. Some communities have many persons who can speak their own “Native” language, while others do not. CIHR-supported scientists Dr. Michael J. Chandler of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Christopher E. Lalonde of the University of Victoria found that suicide rates are essentially zero in those few communities where at least half the band members had conversational knowledge of their own language.
Inuit obesity in step with Euro-Canadian rates
The proportion of overweight and obese people among the Inuit of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska is similar to that of overweight and obese people among Canadians of European origin, according to a study that used data culled from four surveys. The study, led by CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Kue Young of the University of Toronto, found that 36.6% of Inuit men and 32.5% of Inuit women were overweight while 15.8% of the Inuit men and 25.5% of the Inuit women were obese. As levels of obesity increased, various measures of how the body is functioning - such as lipid, glucose, and insulin levels and blood pressure - also increased. At each level of obesity, however, the Inuit had lower blood pressure and lipid levels than Euro-Canadians.
Academic and Aboriginal partnership produces results
A two-year CIHR project to bridge the gap between academic research and Aboriginal communities’ needs has led to the creation of community-centered intervention programs to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). According to a report in Alaska Medicine, an initiative led by Dr. Anne George of the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine has resulted in four communities developing culturally-relevant prevention tools for FASD. Dr. George is a co-investigator on the two-year project to improve health for Aboriginal people.
Dr. Judith Bartlett – Culture and Health
For Dr. Judith Bartlett, health starts with an awareness of who you are. Not just the name on a hospital bracelet, but your larger cultural identity.
“It’s critically important not just for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, but for anyone’s health to understand their cultural roots and a full sense of who they are as a person,” says Dr. Bartlett, a Métis physician and researcher at the University of Manitoba.
It’s a perspective that’s guided Dr. Bartlett’s work for almost two decades. This includes her days as a fly-in doctor to northern Manitoba First Nations communities and her role in co-founding the Winnipeg-based Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre in 1992. Today, she’s harnessing this experience in the first ever Manitoba-wide Métis health status and health-services use study, co-led by Dr. Patricia Martens of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.
The Métis Need to Know Too study, co-funded by CIHR and Manitoba Health, will provide the essential baseline knowledge to adapt the province’s health services and programs to better meet Métis needs. Dr. Bartlett says the research is important not just because Métis-specific data will be collected, but that it will be interpreted by Métis.
“If you want to develop services that meet the needs of local populations, then that’s where you need to interpret the data,” she says.
In the past decade, Manitoba’s Métis population has grown not through birth rate alone but through individuals embracing their Métis identity, says Dr. Bartlett. She notes that historically many Métis have felt it wasn’t safe to acknowledge their cultural identity. But it’s a cultural shift that has profound implications for Métis health today, and for future generations.
“If you feel invisible then your children are also going to feel invisible,” says Dr. Bartlett, a mother of two. “So one of the important things is for people to be visible - that you stand-up and the world knows you’re there.
For more information, go to http://www.impact.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/.