Head of Canadian Medical Association wants to draw attention to root causes of illness

Posted on May 9, 2013 in Equality Policy Context

MontrealGazette.com – business
May 8, 2013. By Charlie Fidelman, Gazette Health Reporter

Anna Reid initially went to medical school because she was curious about how the body functions, and wanted to learn how to fix the bits that were broken.

But as head of Canada’s largest medical association, Reid is trying to drive change by looking at the factors that have an impact on health.

“Why Canadians get sick in the first place, really, the causes of the causes of illness,” Reid, president of the Canadian Medical Association, explained to The Gazette’s editorial board Wednesday before heading out to a town-hall meeting in Montreal on health.

Launched in Winnipeg this year, the meetings are part of the association’s National Dialogue on Health Care Transformation, which seeks Canadians’ input on how to transform health care.

Reid’s particular interest in the causes of illness was sparked by issues she confronts daily in her practice in northern British Columbia, which has a large aboriginal population.

“For example, if I have a patient with asthma, I can give out asthma medication, but if I send them back to their substandard and mouldy housing and don’t look at the reason they got sick in the first place, we’re not improving their health in the way that we need to do,” Reid said.

The rates of diabetes among First Nation communities is huge and while plenty of medication is handed out, she said, there’s little access to fresh, healthy foods.

And these inequities don’t just happen in the north, Reid added — they exist across the country.

Doctors at the CMA are not economists, education or housing experts with knowledge on how to fix these things, Reid said. “But we’re the experts at seeing the negative downstream effects of these inequities, so it’s our duty to bring the attention forward from a health aspect and ask people to pay attention policy-wise.”

An estimated 20 per cent of the $200 billion Canada spends on health care every year is attributable to socio-economic disparities, such as early childhood education and family income, Reid said.

The main cause of poor health is economic, the gap between the rich and the poor, Reid said.

“The larger the income disparity, the worse the health gets,” Reid said.

Income is the No. 1 social determinant on health and longevity, she said, followed by early childhood development and education.

Only 25 per cent of the quality of Canadian’s health depends on the health-care system itself, another 25 per cent is related to biology and genetics, “and a full 50 per cent are determined by the socioeconomic determinants of health, so fully one-half,” Reid said. “And if we don’t understand that, we’re not going to be able to sustain our healthy system if we don’t start looking upstream.”

The CMA is calling on governments at all levels as well as community leaders to address issues of extreme poverty and educational discrepancies.

To participate in the dialogue, go to dialogue.healthcaretransformation.ca

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