OTTAWA – The federal government will reorient $25 million in research funding to test leading-edge ideas for confronting some of the most troubling areas in aboriginal health.
The funding will focus on obesity and diabetes, tuberculosis, oral health and suicide prevention in aboriginal communities, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said Thursday.
The funding has not been announced before, but it is not new money. It will come from the existing budget of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and be spread over 10 years.
And the money comes with a catch. Researchers who hope to get a piece of the funding need to work closely with aboriginal communities.
Researchers who simply want to add their insight to piles of existing data need not apply.
“To help make these projects as effective as possible, this new research initiative requires researchers to partner with aboriginal communities,” Aglukkaq said in a press release. “Together they’ll figure out the most effective ways of tackling key health issues.”
The goal is to take existing research and apply it on a community level to see how it works. Successful projects could then be rolled out on a larger scale.
Rates of diabetes, TB and suicide are far, far higher among aboriginals than in other Canadian communities. The overall suicide rate, for example, is more than double that of other Canadians and is much higher than that in some areas.
There are a lot of existing studies on the problems, but few workable solutions with solid results.
Aglukkaq has been under persistent fire in her Nunavut riding as well as in Ottawa for her harsh treatment of a United Nations food envoy who pointed to profound hunger issues in aboriginal communities. She took Olivier De Schutter to task for making recommendations on hunger in the North without visiting the region.
By contrast, Thursday’s announcement, which came on National Aboriginal Day, stresses the need for researchers to be closely tied to native communities.
Aboriginal groups have also raised concerns about federal funding cuts to the National Aboriginal Health Organization, which financed and carried out research on First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.
The government argues that the organization was not functioning properly and represented only a small portion of the money Ottawa spends on improving aboriginal health outcomes.
Critics say Ottawa has been ignoring aboriginal health research.