Health gap between Manitoba's rich and poor persists

Little progress has been made in closing the health gap between the wealthy and the poor over the past decade in Manitoba, a newly release study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) concludes.

Infant mortality rate twice as high for lowest income Manitobans, researchers say

Little progress has been made in closing the health-gap between the wealthy and the poor over the past decade in Manitoba, a newly release study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) concludes.

Of the several health indicators examined, it was revealed that the disparity in infant mortality rates between low- and high-income residents ranked second-highest in Manitoba. Only Newfoundland and Labrador has a bigger gap in rates between the two extreme income groups. 

CIHI found that the infant mortality rate for Manitobans in the lowest income group is 10.5 per 1,000 live births, while the rate for those within the highest income level falls to 5.3 per 1,000 live births. Manitoba's low-income infant mortality rate is also the highest of all provinces — excluding the territories.

Jon Gerrard, Liberal MLA for River Heights, said these results should concern the public.

"Infant mortality is an important measure of a community's general well-being. The things that influence infant mortality — the mother's health, nourishment, premature births — are also considered to be indicators of health. It is a broader reflection of the overall community," says the former physician turned politician.

The findings also showed that the province's lower income drivers are hospitalized for motor vehicle accidents almost twice as often as higher-income Manitobans (73 per 100,000 residents compared to 41 per 100,000).

The Canadian Institute for Health Information says factors such as higher rates of substance abuse could play a role in this disparity, but says other factors also need to be considered, such as road safety and infrastructure in older neighbourhoods.

"Across Canada there have been a lot of improvements in terms of lowering motor vehicle traffic injury hospitalizations, but [in Manitoba] we're not seeing these improvements in lower-income neighbourhoods as well," said Erin Pichora, program lead for the CIHI study.

Health inequality unchanged

Canada-wide, the gap between the rich and the poor did not change in 11 of the 16 health indicators studied — such as obesity, smoking habits and mental illness. In the case of hospitalization due to mental illness, the income-related health gap actually improved, but not for the reasons health officials would hope.

"When we did see a narrowing of the gap, it was for the wrong reason. The rates were worsening among the higher income groups, there was a leveling down, as opposed to an improvement in the lower income group," explains Pichora.

"When you start to break it down by indicators, you might see some provinces having larger inequalities than Canada as a whole, but overall we didn't see one province stand out," she said.

CIHI said that provinces should pay close attention to the health disparity between income groups if it hopes to reduce costs and improve the health of a large segment of its communities.

"There needs to be a balance struck between universal and targeted programs. Certainly you need the universal programs to provide a safety net," Pichora said. "As well, you need targeted programs to address health issues that are arising primarily in certain populations."


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