Inequal access to healthcare for Inuit women in Canada | Polarjournal
This is not the first time that a research has shown that Indigenous people in Canada are in poorer health conditions than the rest of the population. This time, a study on Indigenous women of childbearing age points to inequalities in access to healthcare. Illustration: Pixabay

Racism and lack of health care providers mean that Indigenous women in Canada are generally in a poorer health condition than non-Indigenous women. A study shows that Inuit, First Nations and Métis women are more affected by chronic illnesses and mental disorders.

Recently published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the study was based on data collected between 2015 and 2020 by the annual Canadian Community Health Survey, from 6 000 Indigenous women and 74 760 non-Indigenous women aged from 15 to 55.

The aim of the research conducted by the CMAJ was to quantify the disparities in health care between indigenous women and non-indigenous women of childbearing age. The results show that indigenous women wait longer for care, make more regular non-emergency hospital visits and have fewer family doctors than non-indigenous women. This is particularly true for pregnant women and women who have just given birth.

Financial insecurity and level of education do not explain this difference in access to healthcare. With the same income and education levels, Indigenous women were still at a disadvantage. A situation which, according to the researchers, has its roots in the past: “This is largely a result of colonial policies, including targeted violence and racism, residential schools, forced or coerced sterilization, and destruction of traditional lands.”, state the authors in their study. “During reproductive age, Indigenous females in Canada face many disparities in health care access, use and unmet needs. Solutions aimed at increasing access to primary care are urgently needed to advance health care reconciliation.”

Lack of local infrastructure, shortage of staff, language and cultural barriers between caregiver and patient. Accessing healthcare in Canada’s Arctic communities is difficult, and Nunavummiut often have to seek treatment far from home. Here, Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit. Image: Government of Nunavut.

For the remote communities of Canada’s Far North, there is a lack of infrastructure and medical staff, particularly trained Inuit personnel. Inuit women often have to wait more than two weeks for an appointment, often to be seen by a nurse. Many nurses are itinerant and do not speak Inuktitut. Under these conditions, it is difficult to build a relationship of trust with a patient and to establish long-term care that also takes into account the person’s cultural specificity.

The distances to be traveled to reach a health center further complicate access to medical services, leading in some cases (childbirth, general health care) to the need to move.

An investigation published last May by The Globe and Mail explained how expectant mothers in Nunavut were forced to give birth in Iqaluit. This implies for them having to leave their homes, sometimes even their children if they are already mothers, to settle temporarily in a hotel room while waiting for labor to begin in order to be admitted to hospital.

The CMAJ study involved 742 Inuit women. An advisory committee was specially created for the project, and included four Indigenous women’s organizations, including Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a national organization representing Inuit women nationwide.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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