Currently only 14 per cent of Canadian children under the age of six receive professional eye care. Since the measles outbreak in North America a few months ago, more school districts and provinces are considering mandatory immunization in order to attend school. Should eye examination be added to the list of school entry requirements?
As a medical student taking part in a Social Paediatrics course at The Hospital for Sick Children, I was recently immersed in the lives and healthcare needs of low-income families in Toronto. This experience reshaped the lens through which I now view healthcare and helped me recognize that societal factors greatly influence the emotional and physical wellbeing of children and their families.
This isn't just an American problem. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian children are growing up without enough. Low-income children, especially minorities and aboriginals, are growing up at an increased risk of preventable diseases -- diseases both classically medical and mental health related that arise as a result of their early living conditions and will affect us all. These numbers don't simply represent difficult childhoods; they mark a huge group of Canadians who are growing up without the supportive environments they need to develop into healthy adults.
Poverty, neglect, family violence and substance abuse can expose children to toxic stress that changes their bodies and increases their likelihood of having many problems later in life, including early pregnancy, heart disease, asthma and cancer. Researchers understand these processes well.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food will present his preliminary findings on food security in Canada on May 16 in Ottawa. It's my hope that this will put child hunger squarely on the political agenda in Canada. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but hunger is something that we increasingly see among the families that bring their children to the hospital for medical attention.
One young doctor had to examine a sick child in a dim apartment because the electricity had been cut off. She said she'd never again do an assessment or write a prescription without wondering if paying for the antibiotic might mean no food on the table.