New study finds health gap between First Nations and other Manitobans widening

A doctor writing in a file. Getty Images

A new study from the University of Manitoba has found a widening health gap between First Nation people and other Manitobans.

The joint study by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (FNHSSM) and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP), compared health data collected between 2015-2017 with the results of a Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) study published in 2002.

It found a First Nation person’s life expectancy is 11 years lower than that of the general Manitoba population, a disparity that’s grown from the seven years found in the 2002 study.

While the 2002 study found First Nation people’s rate of premature death — dying before the age of 75 — was double that of other Manitobans, that gap has now worsened to three times the rate of other Manitobans, according to the new report, released Tuesday.

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“When we look at health status and health-care access, the inequities between First Nation people and all other Manitobans have gotten worse, according to many indicators,” said Leona Star, a Cree woman who is director of research at FNHSSM and co-led the study.

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The study, The Health Status of and Access to Healthcare by Registered First Nation Peoples in Manitoba, is the first in Canada to compare data from a study designed by First Nation researchers with data from a representative sample of all Manitoba First Nations.

It was undertaken in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to identify and close gaps in health outcomes for First Nation people.

“This partnership between FNHSSM and MCHP is a sign of progress,” said Star in a release.

“It’s essential for First Nation researchers to take leadership roles in studying First Nation health.”

The study also found suicide rates are be about five times higher for First Nations people and also found significantly higher rates of cervical and colorectal cancer among First nations.

The study blames the growing health gap on the ongoing trauma of colonization, generations of racism, poor housing, lack of clean water, and imposed poverty.

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“The health of Manitobans is improving overall, but First Nation people are not experiencing the same rate of improvement,” Dr. Alan Katz, director of the MCHP, in the release.

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“They’re being left further behind and are not being meaningfully involved in decisions on health care.”

The report made several recommendations which include publishing annual reports on the progress in addressing health gaps, addressing racism in the health-care system, and prioritizing the training and hiring of First Nation health-care professionals.

Star said it’s also important to see similar First Nation health research partnerships developed.

“Going forward, we need data collection that aligns with the TRC Calls to Action and documents those strengths and positive initiatives, as well as indicators of ill health,” she said.

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