Health gap between rich and poor widening

Poorest Manitoba populations struggle with serious health issues

The gap in health between the richest and poorest Manitobans has grown significantly in the last 20 years.

According to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine Community Health Sciences summary of a report by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy entitled Growing Gaps in Wealth and Health for Manitobans, health differences are not solely due to people’s lifestyles but also due to their work and living conditions.

Therefore, there is an unequal distribution of disease and early death.

Researchers have attempted to use preventative health care across the board to determine whether the gap between rich and poor has changed over the past two decades. If this gap has increased, it could mean that changes are needed in health policies in the future.

There is no doubt in my mind that policies need to be changed.

We know that the poor have fallen behind economically, but you might be surprised how far behind their income has fallen both rurally and in urban centres.

The gap in household income has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

In 1986, the wealthiest rural households in Manitoba earned $21,790 more than the poorest households.

Two decades later, those same households earn $47,005 more than the poorest households.

In many cases, the growing gap in income has resulted in abysmally growing health gaps.

Large gaps and serious health issues within the poorest populations in Manitoba demand our attention, especially with regards to tuberculosis.

For example, in rural Manitoba, 58 per cent of recent hospitalizations for tuberculosis occurred in 20 per cent of people in the lowest income group.

This suggests that if there was no inequity, only 20 per cent would have been from the lowest income group.

Furthermore, there is a widening gap in rural and urban Manitoba with regards to premature death, diabetes, heart disease and fewer pap tests done.

For all of these indicators, people in the lowest income group make up one-third and sometimes up to 40 per cent of those with these problems - even though this group represents only one-fifth of the population of Manitoba.

Premature death is often used as an indicator of overall health.

While people are generally living longer, there is little improvement for people in the lowest income group.

Large inequities are also reported for deaths from suicide in ages 10 years and over from the lowest income group.

While there have been considerable improvements in preventing death in children from this group under the age of 10 years, 38 per cent of these deaths occurred in 24 per cent of children.

With regards to diabetes, the number of adult Manitobans living with diabetes has risen from 4.2 per cent to 8.2 per cent in the past decade.

But, again, it has affected those in the lowest income level the most.

So, why are the statistics for poor health so staggering for those with the lowest income?

Many are not working and are living on a fixed income, leaving them with little money to buy nutritious food that would contribute to better health.

As well, many are living in substandard housing because they cannot afford better housing due to their economic situation.

Overall, these circumstances often lead to depression and, therefore, poor physical health.

It is clear that the gap in healthcare in Manitoba is far too wide between those who have money and those who are poor.

We need to address this issue now before the gap gets out of hand.

However, one would assume that providing programs for people who are the poorest would have the greatest improvement to their health - but that is debatable.

Creating a program that singles out a particular group can be isolating for those in that group, and the program often fails.

I think it’s important to maintain programs that aim to improve everybody’s health so that everyone benefits from the healthcare system.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster. He lives in the University of Winnipeg’s McFeetor’s Hall.

Published in Volume 67, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 23, 2013)

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