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USask research says medicine needs to be more inclusive

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WATCH: A University of Saskatchewan researcher is working to make medicine more inclusive so that more racialized Canadians enter the field and so more people seek out and trust healthcare – Feb 27, 2021

A University of Saskatchewan researcher says the solution can also be the problem.

Manuela Valle-Castro is the director of the USask College of Medicine social accountability division, where she works to strip away the racist, sexist and classist beliefs ingrained in the medical field by the only people allowed to practice medicine for hundreds of years.

“We have inherited the biases of the institutions, which are male and white biases and also some class biases,” she said, speaking to Global News over Zoom.

Read more: VIDO, Global Nexus teaming up to fight COVID-19, future pandemics

“In Canada, we didn’t have a female doctor until 1883 and she had to go and get trained in the U.S.,” Valle-Castro said, referring to Emily Stowe.

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She told Global News the exclusionary beliefs not only prevent many racialized Canadians from entering the field, but it also prevents them from seeking out treatment.

“I have patients that refuse to go to hospitals, I have patients with unstable housing,” Dr. Yvonne Blonde said.

Blonde is a family physician who works with refugees and HIV+ people in Saskatoon.

She said years of neglect and experimentation of minorities at the hands of medical practitioners have culminated in a lack of trust, which affects who wants to get treated.

In February, Cowessess First Nation reported one in four residents were refusing COVID-19 vaccines for that reason.

“Certain groups and certain populations of people are sick and others are not, and that certainly follows the hierarchy that was desired within colonialism,” she said.

According to a July 2020 Statistics Canada study, “most visible minority groups are more likely to live in poverty than the white population.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Cowessess First Nation navigates vaccine hesitancy during reserve’s rollout

The study, “Economic impact of COVID-19 among visible minority groups,” draws on the 2016 Census and a crowdsourcing data initiative. It concludes “[h]igh poverty rates among most visible minority groups prior to the COVID-19 pandemic make them vulnerable to the financial impact of work disruptions.
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“[T]he COVID-19 pandemic generally had a stronger impact on visible minority participants’ ability to meet financial obligations or essential needs than for white participants,” it states.

Blonde said that trend points to another health risk.

“Poverty equals disease. It equals earlier risk for cancer, it equals earlier co-morbidities, [like] stress and trauma,” she said.

So as the Canadian medical system confronts what is perhaps its biggest challenge in a century, Valle-Castro said it should also work towards being more inclusive, to better represent and treat Canadians.

“Future doctors need to be trained to serve the needs of community, the needs of the communities where they are.”

With files from Roberta Bell

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