COVID-19 study brings support for Edmonton Black-led agencies and businesses
Public Health Agency of Canada says improving data on race, ethnicity, Indigenous identity is priority
A pick-up truck packed with thousands of face masks set out for multiple Black organizations and businesses in Edmonton last week.
The donation from MHCare Medical comes after a national study revealed the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black Canadians — research that has also caught the eye of federal health officials.
"Canada's definitely paying attention to our study," said Dunia Nur, co-author of the report and president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC), in an interview on Friday.
"People are listening and aside from listening, they're ready with the actionable items of implementation."
Conducted in partnership with the Innovative Research Group, the study found Black Canadians are more likely than other Canadians to be infected, hospitalized or know someone who has died from COVID-19.
Black Canadians also reported being more likely to experience layoffs or a negative impact on household finances due to the virus.
Those grim figures first reported by CBC News grabbed the attention of executives at Edmonton-based MHCare Medical, a major supplier of personal protective equipment and the company that donated 10,000 masks.
"We jumped on the opportunity to help and give back," said vice president Imen Haymour before he and his team loaded boxes of masks onto the delivery truck on Friday. "And we're grateful that we can help."
When the pandemic hit, demand for protective gear spiked, recalled Haymour. Within months, MHCare Medical brought in more than 200 million pieces of personal protective equipment to supply health institutions and government sectors in Alberta.
"And that really opened our eyes to how many susceptible people are out there that either can't afford the PPE (personal protective equipment) that they need, or don't know where to find it," Haymour said.
The company is also supplying free PPE to shelters in Edmonton and Calgary and sending supplies to Beirut to help with recovery efforts after last month's devastating explosion.
In Edmonton, the ACCEC is redistributing the masks to the Somali Cultural Society of Edmonton, Black Lives Matter Edmonton, the Boyle McCauley Dental Clinic and several other organizations.
"My community, the salon, everybody — we need it. And we are really grateful for that."- Mariatu Sesay, Almaria Beauty Salon
Recipients also include Black businesses such as Almaria Beauty Salon And Spa where masks are mandatory for all clients and service providers — a cost that quickly adds up.
"I was so happy when (Dunia) called me and told me," said owner Mariatu Sesay whose salon also offers barber shop services and a hub for community to gather.
"My community, the salon, everybody — we need it. And we are really grateful for that."
The study was published last week after warnings from advocates and researchers that a lack of race-based data in Canada was preventing those most affected by the pandemic from getting the help they need.
Inquiry from Public Health Agency of Canada
Among agencies interested in the research, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has requested more information from Nur, who has also been presented with new funding opportunities.
PHAC said a new initiative is underway to ensure Canada has the data it needs to protect the health of all people in Canada and support the economy. An expanded dataset will be in operation by October 2020.
"Improving data on race and ethnicity, Indigenous identity, occupation and socio-economic variables such as dwelling type are also priorities," PHAC spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau wrote in an email.
Backed by the findings of the study, Nur said the priority now is to talk to federal and provincial government officials in the hopes of seeing policy implementation that best supports the needs of Black Canadians during COVID-19.
"That will show if we have elected a government that genuinely cares for the people," Nur said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.