Nova Scotia

Expert says race-based health data in Nova Scotia 'a great start' to addressing systemic racism

OmiSoore Dryden, the first Black member of the Nova Scotia Health board of directors, is hopeful the province's plan to collect race-based health data will shed light on the prevalence of systemic racism in the health-care system.

New working group to support the collection of race-based data in the health-care system

OmiSoore Dryden said she is hopeful the data will help 'do the work that needs to be done.' (Dalhousie University)

OmiSoore Dryden, the first Black member of the Nova Scotia Health board of directors, is describing the province's plan to collect race-based health data as "a great start."

Dryden is the James R. Johnston chair in Black Canadian studies in the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University and an associate professor in the department of community health and epidemiology.

On Wednesday, the province announced the Nova Scotia government has established a community-based working group to support the collection of race-based data in the health-care system. 

 Zach Churchill, the minister of health and wellness, said systemic racism can have multiple effects on people's health. 

"Collecting race-based data is one step toward ensuring our health system is providing equitable and accessible care, treatment and prevention programs that meet the needs of all Nova Scotians," he said in a news release.

Premier Iain Rankin told reporters it was important that community groups lead the process rather than "bringing them initiatives top down."

Voluntary data collection

The collection of data will be voluntary and is expected to start in late 2021. The release said racial identification will not be included on provincial health cards. 

Speaking to CBC Radio's Mainstreet, Dryden said she anticipates people entering or engaging the health system will be asked to fill out a form and given the option of choosing not to answer.

"What we're actually doing is measuring levels of racism in the system," she said.

"What disaggregated race-based data does is allow us to realize, yes, there's systemic racism in all systems, including health, and this [system] allows us to measure those levels."

She said Toronto collected data that revealed that although Black people make up nine per cent of that city's population, they accounted for a much larger proportion of the city's COVID-19 cases. 

According to Dryden, those numbers do not show a genetic outcome but are the product of systemic racism in housing, employment and extended benefits. 

Citing another study done on Black women being screened for cancer in autumn of 2020, Dryden said the research revealed that Black women are screened and get access to cancer care at a much later date than non-Black women. 

Funding to address findings

She is hoping the new data will provide objective support for what the narrative data has been saying. 

Dryden said she is worried that the findings will be kept private as has been the case in other jurisdictions.

She said she is also concerned that not enough money will be allocated toward addressing the negative effect that racism can have on Black, Indigenous and communities of colour. 

"Now is the time to collect this data and now is the time to put money toward addressing health disparities and health inequities," she 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.



With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet