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Dignitas hosts groundbreaking knowledge-sharing workshop in Thunder Bay


Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer are on the rise and related deaths are projected to increase by 15% globally between 2010 and 2020. This week, Dignitas International collaborated with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) to host a knowledge-sharing workshop on Equitable and Inclusive Non-communicable Disease Policy and Practice.

The workshop brought world-class policymakers, researchers and practitioners from South America and Africa together with First Nations counterparts in Canada. Workshop delegates convened at NOSM at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to share experiences and discuss approaches to improving health policy and practice.

“Having this group of health leaders come together in one room creates an amazing opportunity for people to exchange ideas and really learn from one another in terms of how they can approach very complex challenges,” says Emmay Mah, who serves as the Program Manger for Dignitas’s Aboriginal Health Partners Program.

Despite having one of the best health care systems in the world, there are populations in Canada, and in particular Northern Ontario, that experience disproportionately high rates of disease and have limited access to relevant health services similar to populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

These populations, which include Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities, lack access to quality health care that reflects their needs and addresses social determinants of health including poverty and discrimination. The result is poor health outcomes including serious complications and premature death.

“In the past the international development agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals, has focused on low-income countries. This is important but it also masks the kinds of inequities that are present in high-income countries like Canada, which are disproportionately experienced by our Indigenous communities. By recognizing that these challenges are similar to those faced by communities in low-income countries, there is an opportunity to exchange ideas that… will improve the way that policymakers and practitioners work with marginalized communities,” says Emmay.

The aim of the workshop was to develop a first-of-its-kind multidirectional knowledge network with health organizations around the world that are committed to improving health care for marginalized and underserved populations who experience high rates of NCDs.

Workshop delegates are leading research, programs and policy initiatives to tackle this challenge. The importance of engaging with target communities to develop culturally appropriate solutions and developing accountable methods to measure progress was highlighted.

“What we’ve seen historically, especially with Aboriginal people in Canada, is that communities have not been empowered to make decisions about their own health; instead those decisions have been made for them. As a result health services are delivered in a way that is not necessarily culturally appropriate or reflective of their needs,” explains Emmay.

Thunder Bay, which is significantly affected by issues related to inequities and access to health care for remote and First Nations communities, was a symbolic and ideal choice as the site for the workshop.

“Moving forward, we have an opportunity to design and study more inclusive health interventions. We hope that by modelling a better way of doing things and proving that it works, we will also influence health policy on a broader level,” added Emmay.

Dignitas wishes to thank Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the RBC Foundation, whose generous support made this workshop possible.

Dignitas InternationalDignitas hosts groundbreaking knowledge-sharing workshop in Thunder Bay