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First Nations, Metis partner with cancer agency

By Natascia Lypny, The Leader-Post

Robert Doucette hopes that a new health partnership in Saskatchewan will mean fewer Metis people will have to face the "pandemic" of cancer in his community.

Doucette watched a friend, who was misdiagnosed, die from cancer. He wonders if a language or cultural barrier played a part.

"It was very traumatic for me," he said of watching his friend suffer over a number of months.

Doucette is the president of Metis Nation-Saskatchewan which, along with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, has teamed up for the first time with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency to tackle identifying First Nations and Metis cancer sufferers in hopes of using that data to improve cancer surveillance, care and services.

"The cancer agency is responsible to provide equitable care for everyone and this is just another opportunity to reach out to those populations and get their help to design and provide care that is relevant and useful," said Riaz Alvi, provincial leader of epidemiology and performance measurement with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. The agency wants to provide culturally specific care, he said, but without information on the needs and experiences of First Nations and Metis cancer patients - let alone crude numbers on disease rates - the organization is in the dark as to how best to achieve that goal.

"The cancer agency recognizes that to do effective planning, we need to understand what's going on and get some actual hard data around what are the needs, and our partners are realizing that, too," said Alvi.

The trio of agencies is still fleshing out the details of this three-year, $1-million-plus project, which will focus on rural, remote and isolated communities. Alvi said one part of the puzzle might include trying to match up First Nations and Metis citizenship data with the provincial cancer registry.

Pilot programs utilizing the data to improve cancer care and services will take place at the English River First Nation Health Clinic, Ochapowace First Nation, Battleford Tribal Council Indian Health Services and with members of the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan.

"I think this partnership is an indication of where the future of health care is going, especially with respect to First Nations and Metis people. We need to pull together," said Doucette. "We need to pull together with the health regions, with the province and the federal government."

Similar efforts in eight other provinces and territories are happening simultaneously, thanks to funding by the Canadian Partnership

Against Cancer, which in 2011 launched an action plan to address cancer rates among First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations.

The organization identified community-based health resources and community awareness; culturally responsive resources and services; access to programs and services; and cancer patient identification systems as particularly lacking among these populations.

Despite the lack of comprehensive data, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has found that rates of common cancer among First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have increased over the past few decades, with some communities' rates of cancer exceeding those of the general Canadian population.

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