Overall health, life expectancies of Manitoba First Nations people on decline over last two decades, report shows

·3 min read

Troubling numbers released this week show that the overall health and life expectancies of First Nations people in Manitoba have been on the decline over the last two decades, and are statistically far worse than the overall health and life expectancies of other groups in this province.

The findings are part of a new report that was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Monday.

Researchers from the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) looked at health data on more than 99% of Manitobans registered for provincial health insurance during two five-year periods from 1994-95 to 1998-99, and again from 2012-13 to 2016-17.

According to the report, the relative gap for premature death between First Nations and other Manitobans widened by 51% over 20 years, while other concerning disparities were also discovered in the study.

The relative gap in years of life lost increased by 32% for First Nations men according to the study, while the absolute gap in life expectancy between First Nations and other Manitobans increased from eight years to 11 years.

The study also showed that First Nations people had a higher decrease in primary health care visits compared to other Manitobans, despite having higher rates of hospitalization and more days spent in the hospital.

“Disparities between First Nations and all other Manitobans in many key indicators of health and health care use have grown larger over time,” the authors of the report wrote in the study. “New approaches are needed to address these disparities and promote better health with and for First Nations.”

“The collective trauma that Indigenous populations have experienced through colonial policies and practices include, among others, racism and marginalization in virtually every aspect of their lives, major disruptions of families and communities through forced attendance at residential schools and by the child welfare system, trauma from physical, emotional and sexual abuse carried over into future generations, and damage to their Indigenous identity through loss of culture, language, traditions and teachings.

“Other social determinants e.g., poverty, social exclusion and poor access to clean water, quality housing, education and health services, and the government’s failure to address these issues also influence the health of First Nations people.”

The results of the study were no surprise to NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who said that colonial practices and policies and “systemic racism” over time have led to the health disparities seen in the report.

“Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous healthcare professionals, have long been stating systemic barriers and racism exist within our healthcare system,” Fontaine said on Tuesday.

“And it’s that systemic racism that fundamentally contributes to Indigenous people’ slower health outcomes.

Fontaine said the results of the study show that lots of work needs to be done to make the health care system in this province equitable for First Nations people.

“We have long been saying what needs to occur in ensuring Indigenous peoples have the same health outcomes as other Manitoba citizens, including immediate access to healthcare professionals and infrastructure, clean water, adequate and safe housing, food security, mental health supports, reproductive and environmental justice.

“Indigenous peoples are as equal and as worthy as any other citizens in Manitoba, and deserve equity within the healthcare system.

“Our lives literally depend on it.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba director of research Leona Star and to Manitoba Centre for Health Policy director Dr. Alan Katz for further comment, but did not hear back from either before Tuesday’s press deadline.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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