According to Statistics Canada, the infant mortality rate in Canada in 2006 was five infant deaths for every 1000 live births. Among Canada’s on-reserve First Nations communities, however, the infant mortality rate in 2006 was estimated at eight deaths for every 1000 live births. And, according to UNICEF, the infant mortality rate in Nunavut was a shocking 13.5 deaths for every 1000 live births; marginally higher than the infant mortality rates of several developing nations, including Sri Lanka and Saint Lucia.
In addition to elevated infant mortality rates, First Nations women and youth are at disproportionately higher risks than the mainstream Canadian population to have other adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes. These communities are more likely to suffer high-risk pregnancies, pre-term deliveries, sexually transmitted infections and instances of sexual violence.
“The reasons are complex as to why Aboriginal people face these poorer health outcomes,” says Dr. Don Wilson, Co-chair of the Aboriginal Health Initiatives Committee of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). “It goes back to historical inequities that have been established by government policies, such as the Indian Act, which was intended “¦ to assimilate Aboriginal people and keep them under the control of the government. These policies have led to things like poverty, lack of food security and poorer housing.”
Dr. Wilson, himself a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, has helped launch the SOGC’s latest online initiative, AboriginalSexualHealth.ca (link to: http://aboriginalsexualhealth.ca/), a website meant to educate and empower First Nation, Inuit and Métis women and their health-care providers. Launched on National Aboriginal Day (June 21), the site aspires to be a valuable resource for Canadian Aboriginal people and, according to Dr. Wilson, it will be an ever-evolving work.
“It’s not a static thing that we’ve just put out there once like a single publication,” he says. “It’s going to be “¦ a living organism that will change with time as new content and new information becomes available. And I hope that it will become established as a respected resource within the Aboriginal community.”
Dr. Wilson recognizes the unique challenges faced – after all, sexual health is a topic surrounded by taboos in any community. To that end, the site has Aboriginal-specific content, like information translated into Ojibway, Cree and Inuktitut and Aboriginal people presenting videos.
“(We also) value and encourage input from community leaders and elders as part of our overall message,” he explains. “Users of the site are encouraged to speak to their elders about sexual and reproductive health, and to combine their traditional teachings with consultation by a health-care provider.”
Dr. Wilson stresses that the health information provided is relevant to any woman. “If the average non-Aboriginal Canadian woman explored our website, she would also benefit from the information we have available there. It is presented in a clear manner, usually in the language of laypeople so that the information is understandable.”
The launch of this site is seen as a first step in a more positive direction for the at-risk populations in our northern communities.
“Knowledge is power,” states Dr. Wilson. “And it is time that we transfer that power back into the hands of Aboriginal people.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com