03/25/2014 05:44 EDT | Updated 05/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Bridging the Gaps in Cancer Care For First Peoples

It's a fact that more than one in three Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. While cancer affects everyone, rates of common cancers have increased among First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in the past few decades and in some populations, are now at or above rates in the general Canadian population, and are also often diagnosed at a later stage. We know that across the cancer journey for First Peoples, there are gaps such as a lack of culturally responsive care, often poor transitions between communities and care settings, language and geographic barriers and a need for greater cancer awareness within communities.

To understand and address these gaps in cancer care, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has launched a new initiative to work with and for First Peoples in nine jurisdictions across Canada. The initiative represents a coming together and commitment to collaborate on a large scale among First Nations, Inuit, and Métis organizations, health care providers, individuals and families affected by cancer -- grounded in a motivation to improve the cancer experience.

The initiative was officially launched in Ottawa last week, where National Chief Shawn Atleo, Leader of the Assembly of First Nations, Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, and Clement Chartier, President of the Métis National Council met with health sector leaders and other partners to discuss the need to collaborate and find solutions together. Discussions focused on how to improve the patient journey for individuals living in rural, remote and isolated regions. Partners will work together to address common health system gaps, improve cancer outcomes, and reflect an understanding of and the need for traditional and community support, culturally relevant services and care.

In Labrador, for instance, this will be achieved by expanding tele-health services to enhance consultation between patients, oncologists and health teams in community clinics. This will help reduce, where possible, the need to travel vast distances to St. John's to receive health services in. Ultimately, this will mean that when people receive a cancer diagnosis, they will discuss it and their treatment choices with family and community health teams, reducing language barriers.

Another example will be seen in the Northwest Territory, where collaborative strategies will improve access to and the availability of culturally appropriate resources to enhance cancer patient knowledge and increase cultural and community awareness among professionals delivering care. Sharing circles have been held to hear directly from people affected by cancer about how to make improvements.

And in Saskatchewan, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Métis Nation Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency will work together with communities to improve the availability of cancer data systems and practices and enable improved planning and delivery of services. This will give health care providers more insight into the cultural and geographical considerations that should be a part of a patient's cancer experience.

In Quebec, for one of the first times, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay will work together to determine how they can ease the journey for patients travelling to Montréal for care. They are hopeful that the impact of the changes will extend beyond cancer to help improve health care more generally.

So often we hear only about the lack of collaboration that exists across our country, but this is not the case here. These partners have committed to not only working together to address key cancer care issues with and for First Peoples, but also to track and measure the impact of the work together. With funding and involvement of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the initiative includes investments of $10.2 M to enable teams to not only work within their jurisdiction, but also come together across the country and share knowledge about how that change is occurring on a regular basis. This network will include participation beyond the nine jurisdictions in Canada, and they will tackle common challenges together where possible.

It's unique and impressive -- and what is needed if we're going to improve outcomes from cancer for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.


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