Aboriginal Health Funding: Ottawa To Fund Practical Health Solutions: Sources

OTTAWA - The federal government is expected to announce a "significant" reorientation of research funding on Thursday to pay for test-driving leading-edge ideas to confront some of the most problematic areas in aboriginal health.

Government sources tell The Canadian Press that the funding will focus on obesity and diabetes, tuberculosis, oral health and suicide prevention in aboriginal communities.

The funding has not been announced before, but it is not fresh new money. It will come from the existing budget of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and spread over 10 years, sources say.

CIHR has a $30-million envelope for aboriginal health, but it was not immediately clear how much of that would be redirected towards the new initiative.

What is clear: ivory tower researchers who simply want to add their insight to piles of existing research need not apply.

Funding will only be granted to researchers who have buy-in from aboriginal communities to take some of the existing research and apply it on a small scale to see how well it works.

Rates of diabetes, TB and suicide are far, far higher among aboriginals than in other Canadian communities. The suicide rate, for example, is more than double that of other Canadians, and much higher than that in some areas.

Studies on the problems are ample, but workable solutions with solid results are not.

The announcement will come from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in Iqaluit and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan in Ottawa.

Aglukkaq has been under persistent fire in her Nunavut riding as well as in Ottawa for her harsh treatment of a United Nations food envoy who pointed to profound hunger issues in aboriginal communities. She took the envoy, Olivier De Schutter, to task for making recommendations on hunger in the North without visiting the region.

By contrast, Thursday's announcement will stress the need for researchers to be closely connected to aboriginal communities, sources say.

Aboriginal groups have also raised the alarm about federal funding cuts to the National Aboriginal Health Organization, which funded and carried out research on First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.

The government has argued that NAHO was not functioning properly, and was only a small portion of the funding Ottawa spends on improving aboriginal health outcomes, but critics say Ottawa has been ignoring aboriginal health research.

Thursday is National Aboriginal Day.