By Howard Elliott
A new study that shines a harsh spotlight on the health of Hamilton’s urban native community has something in common with The Spectator’s Code Red research.
Poverty and chronic disease…
The methodology used in the aboriginal health study — conducted by researchers affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto — is not the same. But both bodies of work illuminate problems we knew existed, but which turn out to be much more serious than many people thought they were. In the case of Code Red, we knew that the health and even longevity of people living in poverty are adversely affected by their socioeconomic status. But few people would have guessed the difference in life expectancy between Hamilton’s most prosperous neighbourhoods and the poorest was as high as 30 years.
Similarly, it’s not a surprise that poverty and chronic health problems are overly represented in the aboriginal population compared to the general population. But the extent to which that is true is, or should be, shocking. Aboriginal people in the study were three times more likely to have diabetes than the general population. Seventy-eight per cent of the subjects earned less than $20,000 and 70 per cent live in the lowest income neighbourhoods in the city.
Constance McKnight, executive director of the De dwa da dehs Nyes Aboriginal Health Centre summarized the situation succinctly when she said: “Although it was something we knew as a community, in black and white (the numbers) were startling.”
An unusual aspect of this particular study is that it dealt with people who tend to live outside the mainstream. They don’t traditionally take part in studies, research or in census-style data collection. So clients of the aboriginal health centre circulated through their community using non-traditional tools to recruit people to take part in the research. The good new is that those efforts probably resulted in research that is more accurate and reliable. The bad news is that the news is much worse than even aboriginal health advocates thought it would be.
Asthma, diabetes, hypertension and arthritis are much worse in the aboriginal population. To amplify the problem even more, the research shows that urban aboriginal citizens are more likely to be among the heaviest users of emergency rooms. Specifically, 10.6 per cent of the people surveyed had made six or more emergency room visits in the previous two years.
So, now that we know the situation is as bad as it is, what will we do with this information? Clearly, action is needed more than words. The provincial government, the local health integration network, the city and community-health organizations need to collaborate on proactive health and lifestyle programming targeted at the urban aboriginal population. And that needs to happen soon.