Doctor holding equipment

Racially discriminatory healthcare, anyone? It’s free!

C/O Ashkan Forouzani

By: Hadeeqa Aziz, Contributor 

Throughout school, we’ve been taught about all the ways Canada’s healthcare system is perfect. We’ve got free healthcare, for goodness’ sake!

It seems as though this phrase has made itself quite comfortable in our heads. Even now, while engaging in friendly conversation with our American counterparts, we don’t leave without mentioning: “we’ve got free healthcare”.

What our education systems have failed to teach us, however, is the masked reality of healthcare services in Canada. Various healthcare disparities most definitely exist here and remain persistent.

Indigenous, immigrant, refugee and racialized groups are at a greater risk for the negative health outcomes that result from health inequalities. These inequalities arise from poverty, socioeconomic status, race, identity and other social determinants.  

Why is this the case? Although Canada promises free health care to all its citizens, we need to take a second to examine how accessible and adequate such services are to different groups of Canadians.

Don’t believe that racism can exist in a healthcare setting? Think again. When ideas of superiority and inferiority come to life in such a way that it interferes with an individual’s health and their access to health resources, you’re staring right at racism.

Don’t believe that racism can exist in a healthcare setting? Think again. When ideas of superiority and inferiority come to life in such a way that it interferes with an individual’s health and their access to health resources, you’re staring right at racism. 

Did you know that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities, as well as those of lower educational attainment levels, are at greater risk for things such as diabetes, mental health illnesses, suicide rates and heart disease?

Racial discrimination has earned its title as the leading health issue affecting racialized communities. When these communities are trapped in a system where they are consistently oppressed, how can you not expect them to be at a greater risk of chronic diseases?

For example, with Indigenous communities, the experience of colonization and the permanent effects of it has resulted in large disparities between their health status — including physical, mental and social health — compared to non-Indigenous peoples.

Approximately 50 per cent of Canadian First Nations live on reserves, where poor housing conditions also lead to several health issues. These issues include increased prevalence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, influenza and more recently, COVID-19.

Of course, a conversation about racism and discrimination isn’t complete without a discussion about how whiteness and Eurocentric ideologies have made themselves embedded within modern health care practices and processes. 

Eurocentric ideas have become normalized in health care assessments, diagnosis and treatment plans. They are often used as yardsticks by which non-white groups are judged. How does that make sense when these groups have drastically unique experiences and lifestyles? Mainstream healthcare services are unequipped to adequately meet the needs of these communities.

It is also not surprising that these groups, especially immigrants, refugees and those living on Indigenous reserves do not have the same accessibility to health education. This often results from the intersections that those who identify as BIPOC have with lower socioeconomic status.

In Hamilton, 43 per cent of BIPOC live in low-income households, while only 15 per cent of white residents find themselves in the same category. See how the two determinants are often coupled with each other? Being a victim of both these health determinants inevitably puts an individual at risk of another: access to education.

Having access to health education means knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful to our bodies. When there are disparities with education attainment, these lines become blurry, leaving detrimental effects on an individual’s health. 

Having access to health education means knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful to our bodies. When there are disparities with education attainment, these lines become blurry, leaving detrimental effects on an individual’s health. 

Hamiltonians of lower-income class, which often consists of BIPOC communities, account for 27 per cent of COVID-19 cases, despite making up only 19 per cent of the population. Some determinants of contracting COVID-19 include education and money.

Being an immigrant or refugee already makes a person less likely to have access to an adequate education. Without one, a person may be less likely to know, or fully comprehend COVID-19 guidelines.

Let’s pretend that the person is fully educated on COVID-19 matters. Being of a lower socioeconomic class limits their access to resources, such as face masks and forces them into dangerous situations such as taking public transportation and living in crowded homes.

Even if they had funds to avoid all these things, racial discrimination remains the leading cause of health issues in these communities. See the trap? See how these intersections build upon each other?

Increased access to healthcare services by racialized groups must begin with first determining how these representations are manifested in our healthcare system as well as in “everyday interactions with clients”. We have to not only recognize but appreciate how multiple social identities operate in the lives of racialized communities and have a willingness to tackle issues from an intersectional perspective. Canada proudly identifies itself as a racially and culturally diverse nation — perhaps it’s time our healthcare system recognizes that.

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