Systemic Inequities Increase Covid-19 Risk for...
“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses a grave health threat to Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare, significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation, and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise, most nearby local medical facilities, if and when there are any, are often under-equipped and under-staffed. Even when Indigenous peoples are able to access healthcare services, they can face stigma and discrimination.” Said Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Anne Nuorgam.
It seems that Canada’s record in protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples is abysmal. And it is precisely because of the systemic inequities and discrimination these communities face that Indigenous people may suffer disproportionately from Covid-19.
According to Human Rights Watch, across Canada, public health officials are expressing cautious optimism that efforts to contain Covid-19 are proving effective. But Canadians should recognize Indigenous communities are still at risk.
Federal and provincial governments have urged handwashing and social distancing as Canada’s best defense against the virus. But, as Human Rights Watch has documented, many First Nations communities lack access to clean water and inadequate funding for on-reserve housing has led to severe overcrowding, making social distancing difficult. In urban settings, Indigenous people are also overrepresented in populations at heightened risk of Covid-19: populations experiencing homelessness, prison populations, and people living in poverty.
Indigenous people in Canada also have high rates of underlying health conditions such as diabetes or tuberculosis – diseases associated with poverty or exclusion. According to the World Health Organization, “People ill with both TB and Covid-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted.” Patients with diabetes may also be at higher risk from severe illness from Covid-19.
Many Indigenous people also face discrimination in accessing health care services. In remote Northern communities, many nursing stations are ill-equipped and understaffed. Travel to medical centers is expensive and challenging due to current travel restrictions. Some Indigenous communities also do not have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need – and this does not even begin to cover the mental health impact these communities will face moving forward.
Often, living in an isolated community means a lack of recreational, educational and employment opportunities. U.S. News and World Report ranks Canada’s public health-care system as the most well-developed in the world. And yet, Indigenous communities are still not getting what they need.
Canada’s Minster of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller said social determinants of health, such as unsafe drinking water, crowded housing, lack of health professionals, poor infrastructure and chronic diseases, play a role in making Indigenous communities more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
According to YellowHead Institute, there are at least 465 Indigenous COVID-19 cases across 42 communities and seven virus-related deaths, far above what is reported by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). "ISC continues to release numbers that don't provide the whole picture," said the Yellowhead Institute report. "There is no agency or organization in Canada reliably recording and releasing COVID-19 data that indicates whether or not a person is Indigenous," said the report. "This patchwork of service is a direct result of colonialism . . . The jurisdictional fight between provinces and the federal government, where both claim the other is responsible for services, more often than not leaves Indigenous people without any services."