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Indigenous Health: Canada’s Very Own Global Health Problem

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Western chapter.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the past year, you’ve likely come across the term “global health.” The exact definition is still heavily debated, but it calls to mind images of health problems such as the AIDS crisis in South Africa, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the prevalence of Tuberculosis in India, to name a few.

While these are all important issues that need addressing, they tend to eclipse global health and skew the definition towards one that focuses on problems somewhere else, rather than one that encompasses global health equity. This leads to a tendency of global health workers to look outwards, away from their own countries, to lower and middle income countries (LMIC), instead of recognizing the disadvantaged populations in their own backyard that need attention from the global health community.

If you’re thinking something along the lines of “well, hey, health in Canada is definitely way better than health in developing countries—we have free healthcare!”, allow me to change your mind. An article published last year by The Lancet reported data from a global study on Indigenous health showing that these populations suffer from poorer health outcomes in all countries, and that these effects are not mitigated by a country’s wealth. These outcomes include infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, diabetes, nutritional status, poverty, and educational attainment, among others. Essentially, Indigenous populations in Canada have health outcomes similar or equal to those of indigenous populations in LMIC.

Not convinced? The World Health Organization reports that suicide rates among young Inuit populations are 11 times the national average, and are among some of the highest rates in the world. A Maclean’s article stated that Indigenous populations in Canada have an infant mortality rate worse than Russia’s, that levels of Tuberculosis that have reached epidemic levels, and that the rate of HIV infection is higher than Nigeria’s.

Yup, you read that right. I’ll give you a minute.

By any definition of the term, Indigenous health clearly qualifies as a global health issue.

It may not top the charts in terms of number of people affected or deaths accrued, but the problem with ranking health issues is that you run the risk of depersonalizing them. Every youth suicide is a community grieving, every infant death is a mother’s child ripped from her arms far too soon, and every HIV diagnosis is a lifelong sentence of stigma and discrimination.

These are real Canadian people being unequally hurt by these health inequities. It’s about time we started paying attention.

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Katie is a fourth year Health Studies student at Western University. Born in Canada but growing up in a multitude of countries (re: three), she couldn't resist the siren call of Tim Horton's and moved back to attend school. When she's not Facetiming her dog, she can usually be found at the gym, making iced coffee, pointing at other people's dogs, or resisting the urge to order pizza at the strike of midnight. You can find her on instagram at @katieeolney
This is the contributor account for Her Campus Western.