It’s really quite amazing how Quebec was freaking out over diabetes a few years ago when the Quebec population hit a diabetes infection rate of 3 per cent.
Quebec, the other provinces and the federal government had been quietly ignoring the diabetes pandemic for ages. The stopgap measures show their assistance and concerns haven’t been enough. Rates have been ever increasing over past decades.
Concerned Cree walked over 1,500 kilometres to raise awareness and money for dialysis machines. Bring our people home was part of the rallying cry. Complications with diabetes often leads to a lifetime date with a dialysis machine and many were having to spend time away from family and home in far away places.
It was rough but the Cree people came through. Two machines were brought and set up in Chibougamau hospital. Still, some Cree complain that they are having problems getting access to the machines.
Meanwhile, diabetes rates in the Cree communities are closing in on 20 per cent and that’s the norm for First Nations peoples across Canada.
Even more alarming, according to a recent study from the University of Saskatchewan, is that diabetes appears to hit First Nations people earlier than other Canadians. First Nations people are generally contracting the disease between the ages of 20 and 50. Non-Native Canadians usually don’t get it until they are 60 or older.
The responses and assistance for diabetic First Nations is a disgrace, but this also depends on where you live.
In what can be said to be a criminally negligent case, a Manitoba man has to pay for his own diabetes medicine. The only reason he has to do this is because he lives on his home reserve of Keeseekoowenin. Marvin Blackbird will tell you his kidneys are on the verge of shutting down, his right leg has been amputated and the feds won’t pay for his medication. The province will pay for it but only if he moves off reserve. Today he spends $200 a month on medicine leaving $120 out of his social assistance cheque to live on.
Health Canada said he could request an exception but his doctor has already been refused the exception when he requested it for Blackbird.
Perhaps this is part of the two-tiered health system everyone says is on the way.
Pregnant women seem especially at risk with gestational diabetes and this makes it much more likely their children will develop it. This insures an intergenerational impact on First Nations communities.
By the time First Nations peoples reach the age of 60, over 40 per cent of the men and over 50 per cent of the women will have diabetes.
In Eeyou Istchee and across Canada we need more wellness walks, more exercise, more balance foods, more reminders of diabetes. And we need a plan.
We need the Aboriginal leadership to sit down with provincial and federal governments and recognize we are dealing with a pandemic and gather the appropriate resources to battle this disease. We need it now.