Health Canada cuts funding to women’s health research groups
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics – Federal budget 2012
Published On Wed Apr 25 2012. Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau
Six organizations studying how government policies on everything from toxic chemicals to the legacy of residential schools impact women’s health will lose their funding as part of widespread cuts to the federal budget.
Health Canada expects to save $2.85 million a year by eliminating the Women’s Health Contribution Program, which supports the work of four research centres and two communications networks across the country, by next March.
The organizations now facing an uncertain future have conducted publicly available research looking at on-reserve aboriginal programming for maternal and infant health, barriers to treatment for pregnant women and mothers addicted to drugs or alcohol, and casting a critical eye on funding for the HPV vaccine.
Anne Rochon Ford, the Toronto-based executive director of theCanadian Women’s Health Network, one of the groups set to lose its federal funding, said the biggest loss will be how the groups went beyond clinical research to focus on how particular government policies and regulations affect the health of women.
“That analysis, I think, is unique to the program and that will be gone,” Rochon Ford said Wednesday.
The National Network on Environments and Women’s Healthbased at York University, for example, has taken a look at how the federal regulation of toxic chemicals affects the female population in a particular way.
“Women are exposed to more chemicals, because we use more personal-care products and . . . women are often making these decisions about what chemicals they are exposing themselves and their families to,” said Jyoti Phartiyal, projects manager at the network.
Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, noted the program began in 1996 when there were fewer resources available for research into women’s health.
Outhouse said Health Canada now plans to focus its research funding through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), which includes an Institute of Gender and Health with an annual budget of about $54 million.
“We’re not diminishing the work that anyone has done, (but) when we’re in a process of deficit reduction we’re always looking at how do we achieve that mandate as efficiently and effectively as possible?” said Outhouse.
Outhouse added the annual budget for gender health research includes about $33 million for “open” research, which is one way the groups losing their federal funding can still apply for grants to conduct research on a project-by-project basis.
Rochon Ford noted that in contrast to the scientists conducting clinical research funded by the CIHR, the groups had a mandate to advise the federal government on policy.
Still, Rochon Ford said that role had diminished long before Health Canada announced the funding cut.
“That has eroded considerably with this latest government. It’s been made very clear to us that they don’t want our policy advice,” said Rochon Ford.
Outhouse pointed out that health care is a provincial and territorial responsibility and that the research funded by the CIHR will be available to hospitals to incorporate into their practices.
Health Canada has also come under fire for plans to wind down the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) by the end of June, but Outhouse explained that was largely due to internal problems with the non-profit group.
Three of the five national aboriginal organizations that made up NAHO recommended in a letter to Aglukkaq last fall that it disband and be replaced with three separate agencies for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which Health Canada rejected.
“That made the decision fairly straightforward at that time, since the organization doesn’t technically exist without the national aboriginal organizations,” said Outhouse.
Health advocates are also upset with a decision to cut $15 million from the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy, arguing that it will scale back regulatory and enforcement activity at Health Canada and eliminate a grants and contribution program that went to anti-smoking initiatives.
Aglukkaq said Health Canada is turning its anti-smoking efforts toward Canadians with above-average smoking rates, such as aboriginal populations, where smoking rates are as high as 50 per cent.
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