Thousands of aboriginal people with diabetes undergo unnecessary foot amputations because the federal government won't pay for them to have proper shoes, the head of a Manitoba medical outreach program said Tuesday.

Caroline Chartrand of the Diabetes Integration Project said diabetes patients in 33 First Nations communities in northern Manitoba get no medical funding for foot care. With aboriginal people being at high risk for diabetes, she said, it is essential that they receive foot inspections and special shoes to deal with circulatory, nerve and infection problems related to the disease.

"Ninety per cent of amputations are preventable," Chartrand said. "We need to make changes for foot-care policies because Health Canada doesn't cover footwear for our people."

The federal government spent more than $15 million on amputations for aboriginal patients in Manitoba with diabetes in 2005, Chartrand said. Unless Ottawa starts paying for foot care, she said, this cost will swell to $36 million by 2025.

"That's the cost of doing nothing," Chartrand said.

The program Chartrand leads, under the auspices of Manitoba's Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, offers mobile care services delivered by nurses to diabetics in remote First Nations communities.

In conjunction with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Diabetes Integration Project is lobbying the federal government for an infusion of $9 million over three years to provide for foot inspections, footwear and basic treatment at all First Nations communities in the province.

Chartrand's comments came a day after the Canadian Diabetes Association predicted the disease will cost Canada $12.2 billion in 2010, nearly double the expense of a decade ago.

Every hour of every day, more than 20 people will be diagnosed with diabetes in the foreseeable future, the report warns. The number of Canadians diagnosed with diabetes is expected to hit 2.5 million in 2010, up from 1.3 million in 2000.