A project collecting health data from First Nations communities in Nova Scotia is revealing some troubling statistics.
According to information from the First Nations Client Linkage Registry, the rates of diabetes among aboriginal people between the ages of 20 and 39 is five times higher than the general population of Nova Scotia.
It also found breast cancer screening rates are low and people in First Nations communities are likely to have a heart attack 10 years earlier than other Nova Scotians.
The registry, which is a joint project of First Nations chiefs, the province and Health Canada, allows data specific to First Nations communities to be collected from the provincial Medical Services Insurance Program (MSI).
Sharon Rudderham, the health director for Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton and the co-chair of the working group that created the registry, said the information is an important window into the health of First Nations people in Nova Scotia.
"This allows us to be able to look at hospital admissions, it allows us to look at physicians billing, it allows us to look at numbers of our people that are being diagnosed with cancer or cardiovascular disease or the multitude of various registries that exist within the province," she said.
"There's been quite a few differences identified … our people are younger in getting chronic diseases and are not managing the disease as effectively as they should be."
Work to create the registry started in 2012.
Will help set priorities
Health Canada provided $487,947 in funding for the project and the province contributed in-kind staff expertise to help extract and analyze the data.
Rudderham said collecting and sharing the information will help First Nations communities set priorities in health care, like better breast cancer screening.
"We found that not as many women are getting screened for breast cancer but when they do get screened they hadn't been screened early enough so we're ending up seeing people dying of cancer," she said.
"So what we really need to do is focus more efforts on encouraging women to get screened at a much earlier rate."
According to Rudderham, the information will also help First Nations communities better coordinate health care programs with the provincial and federal governments.
"If we are better able to identify community members with chronic disease at an earlier stage, then we're more hopeful that with early treatment and care we'll improve their overall health," she said.
"It's also a mechanism for us to allow measurement and change and to see if those prevention measures are resulting in outcomes in the health of our population."