By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
A few weeks ago, the provincial political parties officially launched their campaigns in preparation for the June 12 provincial election. Each party is trying to distinguish itself as the best choice for Ontarians, the best party to lead through difficult and uncertain times towards a brighter future.
Education, labour, children and youth services, energy, attorney general, finance, citizenship and immigration, community and social services, infrastructure, transportation, health and long-term care and the environment are among the 30 different Ontario ministries. Each government ministry has the responsibility to determine the mandate, agenda, and goals of the ministry. Those decisions further determine what policies are developed, which services and programs are to be sustained, created or eliminated. In fact, there are very few things in life that are not affected by political decisions or that are immune to political influence.
Given the numerous and significant challenges being faced in our Black communities (health care, education, unemployment/underemployment, housing) we cannot afford to not be involved in the political process. We cannot afford not to take every possible opportunity to put forth our concerns, our proposals and to support those who will present and defend them on our behalf.
In some ways it seems like just yesterday we were heading to the polls to elect an Ontario government. Since the last provincial election in the fall of 2011, some things have changed and some have not. In 2011 the member organizations of the Black Health Alliance collaborated to put forth Excellence in Health Care for ALL Ontarians: An Ontario Health Equity and Black Health Strategy. Much of the information, positions and recommendations from that document are relevant today and are worthy of consideration. I will share with you some excerpts from the document:
Ontarians have come from all over the world, to live in, work and build this province. Moreover, racialized populations are the fastest growing segment of Ontario’s population through immigration, migration and birth rate.
In an equitable and just society, Ontario’s diversity is strength. However, there is growing evidence that health disparities exist and are increasing. This means that not all Ontarians are experiencing positive health outcomes; in fact racialized populations such as Black (people of African descent), Aboriginals, or South Asians bear a disproportionate impact of several chronic diseases.
A 2010 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which compared cardiovascular risk profiles among ethnic populations revealed substantial racial disparities in chronic health conditions. Particularly striking was the reality that diabetes rates in the Black and South Asian populations were roughly twice as high as for White people. Analysis of the same data also revealed that Black people had the highest rates of hypertension compared to South Asian, Chinese and White populations. Other studies have shown that cancer screening rates are lower for African Canadians compared to Whites and that Black Canadians are more frequently diagnosed with some forms of cancer.
Other factors that impact health disparities include the social determinants of health. Research from the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research indicates the social determinants of health including the impact of racism, discrimination and poverty, account for 50 per cent of one’s health status.
Based on current chronic disease trends and projected future health care costs, amplified by the reality that the fastest growing segment of Ontario’s population is also the population at greatest risk of developing the most debilitating and costly chronic diseases, it becomes vividly clear that without an aggressive Ontario Health Equity Strategy, including a Black Health Strategy, it will be financially impossible to sustain an equitable and universal health care system in Ontario.
An Ontario Health Equity Strategy (OHES) recognizes the existence of health disparities and seeks to eliminate those disparities through efforts in comprehensive health data collection (focusing on disaggregated data that identifies racial factors and issues), dissemination and utilization, and culturally competent health promotion, clinical care, education and training.
Black Canadians are the third largest visible minority community in Canada. The largest population, of which nearly half a million live in Ontario, comprise close to 20 per cent of all visible minority people in the province.
Black Canadians experience worse health outcomes and are less likely to use services than many other groups. Social factors including poverty, unemployment, racism and discrimination increase the risk of illness and interfere with timely and equitable treatment. As a result, Black Canadians experience a high and disproportionate level of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, some common cancers, mental health problems and sickle cell disease. These lead to a significant burden on the community and the health and social care budget.
Instituting an Ontario Health Equity Strategy including a Black Health Strategy will enable Ontario’s Health Care System to:
- Reduce health care costs by providing improved health care to populations at greatest risk.
- Respond to Ontario’s changing demographics – an increasingly diverse population.
- Provide health care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviours, including tailoring delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs.
- Reduce disparities in health services and increase detection of high prevalence diseases in our community.
- Address inequitable access to primary health care.
- Improve the overall health of Ontarians of African descent.
Other provinces, such as Nova Scotia and British Columbia, have implemented population specific health strategies and address health disparities and inequities.
For each of us there must be something that will motivate you to act. Perhaps you have been out of work for too long and from your vantage point the future doesn’t look any brighter. What about minimum wage or poverty reduction? Are you experiencing advancement in your field?
Maybe you’re a parent of teenagers and you have no idea how you’re going to pay for their post-secondary education. Ontario has one of the highest costs per capita for post-secondary education in Canada.
For our younger children, you may have questions surrounding accessibility to and the safety and regulation of child care facilities. Maybe you’re worried about the success of your seven- and 11-year-old at school. Are you able to work collaboratively with the teachers and school administrators to provide the necessary supports and resources to better ensure their success?
What about our seniors, their health and well-being in this province? We know we have an aging population and with that come certain health conditions associated with aging, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s in addition to cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and joint (hip and knee) replacements. We need strategies in place now that will ensure we are able to provide the type of care that promotes dignity, respect, function and supports for the family and care givers.
Perhaps you’re excited about a new government initiative and want to make sure it continues, or you like the direction of the current government and want to see more of the same. Regardless of your motivation, get involved.
It’s easy to get involved. Contact your local MPP and find out the date and time of the upcoming All Candidates Debate. Be bold, make an appointment to meet with any or all of the candidates, share your concerns, and lend your support.
Despite the relatively short time line for community engagement compared to the 2011 provincial election, on Friday, June 6 the community will have an opportunity to Meet the Candidates. The event will take place as part of First Friday’s 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Radisson Hotel, 249 Queens Quay West starting at 7 p.m.
This event will give the community an opportunity to hear directly from MPP candidates about their respective parties’ plans for Ontario and their personal commitment to those goals. Further it will give the community an opportunity to put forward questions and recommendations about what we would like to see happen in Ontario on critical issues such as education, labour and employment, health care, children and youth services, social services, for example.
Be reminded if we as a community fail to act, we will fail to succeed. For those of us who are eligible to vote, we must inform ourselves and vote wisely. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your community. For those who are not eligible to vote, apply for your citizenship and gain your right to vote so you won’t miss this opportunity again. Let’s keep in mind the get out and vote commercial which reminds us, “When you don’t vote, someone else speaks for you.”
For more information on the Meet the Candidates event, contact 416-441-0792 or go to firstfridays.ca.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community.