For better health you must address poverty

Yesterday, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) added their voices to the call for a national poverty strategy.  As a result of cross-Canada consultations on the social determinants of health, the CMA has concluded that to improve health four main areas need to be addressed: income, housing, childhood development and food security.  The summary report, “What Makes Us Sick?” delved into the issue of what outside of health care is causing illness and poor health outcomes.   Poverty was at the forefront of the conversation.

This report comes on the heels of other reports released this year that made the connection between poverty and health.  In June, the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Health Policy released “Social Housing in Manitoba”, which confirmed the link between inadequate housing and health.  Earlier in July Statistics Canada released data that demonstrated that poor people have lower life expectancies than individuals with stable income. And just yesterday, the Wellesley Institute circulated their most recent findings regarding working poor and poor health.

All in all, the data consistently confirms the same point – to achieve better health outcomes, poverty must be eliminated.

Dr. Anna Reid, CMA President, noted on CTV news that the CMA report was important to their work on the social determinants of health because it reflected the voices from the ground.  The consultations in Charlottetown, St. John’s, Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Calgary, as well as online, illustrated real life experiences with low income and actual health problems that are the result of poverty.

There are good reasons to look beyond the health care system when determining what exactly leads to poor health.  According to the CMA, “20% of the $200 billion spent on health care annually can be attributed to socio-economic disparities and that 50% of health outcomes can be attributed to the social determinants of health”.  What this indicates is that to look only at medical treatment would be to ignore the causes of poor health.

The report also gave special attention to Aboriginal peoples and individuals experiencing mental health challenges.  Most importantly, the report did not shy away from calling for advocacy in order to create the change.

As an outcome of the consultations 12 recommendations were made.  Some of the key recommendations are (taken directly from the report):

  • That the federal, provincial and territorial governments give top priority to developing an action plan to eliminate poverty in Canada.
  • That the federal, provincial and territorial governments develop strategies to ensure access to affordable housing for low-and middle-income Canadians.
  • That the “Housing First” approach developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to provide housing for people with chronic conditions causing homelessness should be continued and expanded to all Canadian jurisdictions.
  • A program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial–territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies
  • That a national food security program be established to ensure equitable access to safe and nutritious food for all Canadians regardless of neighbourhood or income.
  • That investments in early childhood development including education programs and parental supports be a priority for all levels of government
  • That the federal government put in place a comprehensive strategy and associated investments for improving the health of Aboriginal people that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and Aboriginal communities

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