Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 18: Health (18-24)

Pilot projects could pave way forward for Indigenous health care

April 4, 2023

Based on the principles of nationhood, individual Indigenous communities take the lead in determining how their communities will work with partners to address health care disparities.

iPolitics: Four community-led pilot projects have seen significant improvements in health care for Indigenous communities across the country, supporters say, leading to a push for the government to address the disparity in Indigenous health care services.

They’re part of an initiative known as Pathways, which supports pilot projects that empower Indigenous communities to improve health outcomes. Statements from participants noted that the projects were very valuable, the teams “very helpful and caring,” and that it was an overall enjoyable experience working with Pathways projects.

Based on the principles of nationhood, individual Indigenous communities take the lead in determining how their communities will work with partners to address health care disparities.

Given the lack of formal Indigenous health care policy in Canada, the goal of Pathways is to show government policy makers that community-led and community-informed projects can provide solutions to those who need care. The initiative is a partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim Canada (BI), a pharmaceutical company, and Bimaadzwin, an Indigenous-led policy group with a focus on nation building through health governance and economic development.

“Over 30 communities expressed interest in our Pathways collaborations to advance innovative health care approaches and accelerate guideline-based treatments for Indigenous Peoples living with chronic illnesses,” said Isadore Day, CEO of Bimaadzwin, at the initial launch of the initiative.

So far, the outcomes have been positive, according to advocates.

The four initial projects served four communities across Canada: Nuu-chah-nulth, British Columbia; Maskwacis, Alberta; the Metis Federation of Manitoba; and Wagmatcook First Nation in Nova Scotia. All of them aimed to increase access to culturally-sensitive primary care for patients with diabetes through digital resources and counselling and in-person patient care. The project in Nova Scotia also focused on food security and nutrition.

In Alberta, the Maskwacis pilot launched a platform called Wello, which connects patients to nurses who are able to assess needs and provide immediate attention. This benefits the community by addressing issues of chronic disease that many members struggle with.

Participants in Maskwacis reported a high level of satisfaction using Wello, and the project saw success through creating an “atmosphere of trust” by using a team who knew and understood the culture of the community, showing how Indigenous-driven initiatives have a unique advantage in serving Indigenous Peoples.

“Patient testimonials have reported a decrease in the blood sugar levels of patients in the community, a resulting loss of weight, and demonstrated better control over their diabetes,” said Mehmood Alibhai, the director of patient access and health care policy at BI Canada. “They have been better able to continue with the daily activities and qualities of life.”

By incorporating virtual and digital health care, the projects have seen more patients in the community get access to timely care. “My appointment at the doctors clinic was weeks away and this let me get the help without waiting,” said one patient who had access to the virtual counselling and patient care. “When I called the clinic they told me to stay home as I had [COVID] symptoms, so this virtual let me see someone and get me the help I needed,” said another. “In some ways, these are proof of concept of Indigenous-led and Indigenous community-informed solutions,” Alibhai said.

These projects not only show policy makers how health care disparity can be addressed but also how they can be scaled up in other Indigenous communities.

Already the results are being used to provide health care infrastructure in other communities. An event held in Edmonton at the end of February, the projects were presented to representatives from the Alberta government, the University Hospital Foundation, Alberta Health Services, and various Indigenous communities with the goal of bridging gaps between Indigenous communities and the health care sector.

Four new Pathways pilots were also announced, which will focus on nutrition and mobility, as well as using technology to provide health care by way of digital counselling and therapy. Those projects will serve the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, the Siksika Nation in Alberta, the Municipality of Baker Lake in Nunavut, and the Ebb & Flow First Nation Health Authority of Manitoba.

The success of the initial projects is also being shared in a newsletter and at workshops with the hope more communities will submit their own health care proposals. “Indigenous communities are faced with significant challenges when it comes to chronic diseases, especially in the area of type 2 diabetes,” Alibhai said. “The complications of chronic diseases need to be addressed.”

For that reason, he said BI is looking at the sustainability of the project. “Focusing on supporting Indigenous community-led solutions is what our vision has been from the start and continues to be.”

Julia Wilkes

Click the link below to access details on Indigenous Health Pathways