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Health Watch - July 2015


Compiled by Shari Narine







Youth suffering mental health problems go without treatment

A study recently released by Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa indicates that a large number of young people from
First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities suffer from mental health problems and drug abuse. However, they are not seeking help because of a lack of Aboriginal-specific services.

In a survey of 305 young people, the report found 48 per cent of respondents had a high chance of suffering from depression
and mental health issues. Aboriginal youth are nine times more likely to be depressed than non-Aboriginal youth in Canada, the study said. Suicide rates are also three times higher among Aboriginal youth.

When asked why they do not seek help, Aboriginal youth said racism and stigma associated with depression have stopped them. Many said they would rather work with service providers who can incorporate teachings about their own culture.

These problems are only exacerbated by the lack of services directed specifically at young Aboriginals in the region, said Allison Fisher, the executive director of the Wabano Centre. There are few Aboriginal-specific mental health programs and no treatment centres for substance abuse tailored for Aboriginal youth in the Ottawa region, so many of those suffering, who want culturally-specific treatment, have to either go without or leave. The study was funded by the Champlain Local Health Integration Network.


HIV rates alarmingly high on First Nations

According to the most recent numbers available from Health Canada, there were 64 new HIV infections per 100,000 people on reserves, compared with 5.9 per 100,000 in the country as a whole. Mona Loutfy, an infectious disease specialist with Women's College Hospital in Toronto, thinks the rates could be even higher as little testing has been done on Saskatchewan reserves. A decade ago, Saskatchewan First Nations’ rate of HIV was on par with the provincial population. But in 2011, the rate spiked to 95 per 100,000 on Saskatchewan reserves. HIV is most commonly spread by intravenous drug users sharing needles. Only a handful of Saskatchewan reserves do HIV testing. Loutfy said HIV-increase has spread into Manitoba and Ontario. She believes that Health Canada is not doing enough to address the issue. “I don't think they’re being aggressive enough,” Loutfy said. “I think they can do more.”

Smoking cessation program kicks off

The Samson Cree Nation has launched a new initiative targeted at curbing smoking. Ekaya Pihtwaw, a tobacco cessation project, aims to prevent the use of tobacco among young people and adults; protect from exposure to second hand tobacco smoke; promote cessation among smokers; and provide education and support to those who smoke to help them quit. Ekaya Pihtwaw is working with the Alberta First Nation communities of Samson, Montana, Louis Bull, Ermineskin and Pigeon Lake. Between February and April of 2015, a survey conducted by the project of 839 adults and 52 youth
determined that 45 per cent of the adult population smoked daily and 28 per cent smoked occasionally while 13 per cent of the youth population (under 18) smoked daily and 22 per cent smoked occasionally. As well, 55 per cent of the current adult smokers started smoking when they were between the ages of 13 and 16 years, so a priority of the project is to focus on prevention activities for children and youth. Ekaya Pihtwaw is funded by the
First Nation and Inuit Health, Federal Tobacco Control Strategy.


Financial gifts to help recruit, retain health professionals

The University of British Columbia has received two $1-million donations to support its Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health. The pair of gifts – one from Chancellor Lindsay Gordon and his wife Elizabeth, and the other from Rudy, Patricia, Caroline and Rory North
– will be used to recruit and retain Aboriginal doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other health professionals. As well, nearly half of the Gordons’ gift will provide financial aid for Aboriginal students, while the Norths’ funding will support a summer science program and mentoring program aimed at Aboriginal high school students, and the creation of a new certificate program for Aboriginal health. The centre was created in 2014 to train more Aboriginal health providers, to optimize Indigenous curriculum in the health sciences, and to foster research into Aboriginal health issues.


New system for wider application of point-of-sale

A new system will allow customers to see how and when the Nutrition North Canada subsidy is applied to their grocery bill. This
means that consumers will be able to clearly see the amount of the subsidy passed on to them, ensuring greater retailer transparency and accountability. The new system is a means to increase transparency, which is something northern consumers were asking for. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt directed the Nutrition North Canada advisory board to provide advice and
recommendations by June 1 on how to apply a point-of-sale system. “We strongly believe that Northerners deserve to see the NNC savings on their grocery bill and that a point-of-sale system is a step retailers should take to clearly demonstrate that the full subsidy is being passed on to consumers,” said Valcourt.

Compiled by Shari Narine