A recent feasibility study conducted by Dignitas International brings to light critical gaps in the delivery of health care for remote Aboriginal communities in Northern Ontario and highlights opportunities for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Canada to collaborate with Aboriginal communities.
The study engaged key stakeholders in consultation process, which included Aboriginal community members, health authorities and health centres, First Nations Provincial and Territorial Organizations (PTOs), federal and provincial government representatives and academic institutions. The final feasibility study report – Improving Access to Quality and Culturally Safe Health Care for Aboriginal Communities – captures these different perspectives gathered through a series of interviews and an online survey. The report examines health priorities, challenges and opportunities, and values and approaches to partnering with Aboriginal communities, with a focus on initiatives related to infectious and chronic diseases.
Among the most pressing chronic health issues identified were diabetes, addictions, mental health, cancer, and heart disease. Sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, TB, hepatitis and seasonal influenza were flagged as priority health concerns as well. Also outlined were several challenges impeding the proper delivery of health care in the region. These gaps include the fragmentation of programs and services, poor coordination of referrals and discharge transfers, a lack of access to specialized services, limited continuing education for community-based health care staff, and the weak integration of clinical and traditional aboriginal approaches to health and wellness.
The study also found that NGOs are well positioned to strengthen existing health systems with continuing health and medical education and in the design, implementation and evaluation of community-based health programs. In addition, organizations like Dignitas International could play a supporting role in facilitating the exchange of knowledge and information between different stakeholders and advocating for the health interests of communities, especially around cross–jurisdictional barriers.
“Our findings highlight that NGOs have an important opportunity to collaborate with Aboriginal communities to improve access to quality health care and that Aboriginal stakeholders are interested in exploring such a partnership,” says Emmay Mah, Program Manager for Dignitas International’s Aboriginal Partners project.
Respondents were forthright about the importance of embracing community development and social accountability approaches and ensuring that Aboriginal communities lead in identifying their needs and priorities.
“It is of utmost importance that NGOs take a respectful and collaborative approach if community partnerships with NGOs are to be successful,” adds Emmay. “We plan to listen and learn from our Aboriginal communities as we develop our programming and introduce new ideas.”
With a decade of frontline experience in addressing barriers and gaps to treatment and care in Malawi, Dignitas International aims to extend its approach to developing and evaluating customized health interventions to remote Aboriginal communities in Northern Ontario.
“We acknowledge the history and context which has led to our Aboriginal communities experiencing many challenges to their health and wellness and the diversity of these communities. However, we believe that our partnerships in both Malawi and Canada have the potential to ignite knowledge exchange around common barriers faced by rural and remote communities in different regions of the world. Best practices and lessons learned around developing culturally appropriate models of care can be shared and applied between partners working in different contexts. This way, we can maximize investments in global health and improve as many lives as possible,” notes Emmay.
To learn more about our Aboriginal Health Partners Project, read the full report.