Manitoba

Federal government gives Manitoba First Nations $19M to fight diabetes

The newly created First Nation Basic Foot Care Program aims to help Manitoba First Nations lower their risks of diabetes-related foot complications and will see services provided by certified foot care nurses through local Tribal Councils or directly by community health services.

Money in addition to what the province receives in federal health transfers

Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette announced $19 million in federal money for a First Nations-led initiative to provide foot care services in all Manitoba Oct. 6. (CBC)

The federal government is providing $19 million over the next four years to a First Nations-led initiative to provide foot care services in all Manitoba's First Nations communities.

The newly created First Nation Basic Foot Care Program aims to help Manitoba First Nations lower their risks of diabetes-related foot complications and will see services provided by certified foot care nurses through local Tribal Councils or directly by community health services.

The money comes in addition to the $399.6 million the province is set to receive from Ottawa over the next 10 years through a pan-Canadian health-care funding agreement. Manitoba was the last to sign onto the agreement in August after months of back and forth with the feds.

Premier Brian Pallister made funding for Indigenous health—including diabetes care—one of the main points in his reasoning for holding out for a better health-care deal from Ottawa and the agreement announced Friday leaves the province without a say in how the new money will be spent.

"This is the federal government working with First Nations, this has nothing right now to do with the province," said Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, after announcing the funding. "I know the province, perhaps is a little nervous about costing, and they're trying to really evaluate that, but we're hoping over time that we'll be able to build those partnerships with the province to really make a difference in people's lives."

Numbers from the federal government show First Nations experience diabetes at a rate 4.2 times higher in than the general population, and in Manitoba amputation rates related to diabetes complications are 18 times higher for First Nations than all other Manitobans.

Ouellette said Manitoba is the only province to receive federal money earmarked to help its Indigenous population deal with the effects of diabetes.

"This is a major, major investment into the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples," he said, explaining the hope is the program will reduce the long term cost that diabetes adds to the province's healthcare system.

"Amputation is very expensive. Imagine you lose your limb, and then go back to your community and you already had difficulty obtaining services. Well, how do you get rehabilitation? How do you get a wheelchair around in some communities that might not even have roads?"

Ouellette said 34 of Manitoba's 63 First Nations currently have no diabetes service whatsoever. That forces diabetes sufferers from those communities who develop ulcers that lead to infection to travel for treatment, which often doesn't come in time to prevent amputation, he said.

"What's going on is people are afraid because they see people get onto a plane with a problem with their foot and they come back with no limbs," he said.

First Nations-led programming

The program has been designed by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (Nanaandawewigamig) and the First Nations Diabetes Leadership Council in Manitoba.

Ouellette said it will see two teams — one in the north and another in the south — travelling between communities with specialized nurses making sure people have appropriate care and understanding about how to treat diabetes.

The teams will also return to communities to provide proper follow-up for patients, he said.

Some of the money will be used to beef up medical and health infrastructure in the communities that need it, as well as to provide more training for the people who are on the front lines, he said.

The program will also work on prevention and education, with a focus on preventing gestational diabetes in women who are pregnant, he added.

"This is something that the First Nations communities have been talking about since 1997 when it was recognized by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as an epidemic in their communities," said Ouellette.

"We have really allowed the First Nations to design it and they will be the ones who will implement the program… to ensure they don't have amputations and will be successful in the care, treatment, and prevention of this terrible disease, which is really very debilitating in many communities in the north and the rest of Manitoba."

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