Poor housing conditions linked to respiratory health issues in First Nations children in Northern Ontario
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
A study linking poor housing conditions in First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario to adverse health effects in young children has put the spotlight back on the issue of inadequate housing in many remote First Nations communities.
The study, which was published in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, was titled, “Housing conditions and respiratory morbidity in Indigenous children in remote communities in Northwestern Ontario, Canada”.
The study documented indoor air quality and housing characteristics in four remote First Nations communities (Lac Seul, Kasabonika Lake, Sandy Lake, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug). Participants in the study had a mean age of 1.6 years. The study found that 25 percent of the children were medically evacuated for respiratory illness, while 21 percent of the children in the study had been admitted to hospital for respiratory infections before two years of age. The study also reported 85 percent of houses lacked controlled ventilation, over half had damaged windows, and 44 percent showed water penetration in exterior walls.
In a media release issued by Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Grand Chief Derek Fox stated, “This study confirms what our leaders have been saying for years – that deplorable housing is directly linked to the poor health of so many of our people. We have known for years that the quality of health and housing are linked, and we now have solid data to support this.” Fox added, “We have been advocating for years for substantial improvements to housing, but the government keeps asking for proof that the moldy, drafty houses many of our members are forced to live in are connected to their poor health. This dedicated team has confirmed this link, and we thank everyone who has contributed to this important study. We now look to our federal Treaty partner to work with us on these recommendations.”
Some of the recommendations to the federal government in the study, which was coauthored by Pediatric Respirologist Dr. Tom Kovesi, Research Investigator at the CHEO Research Institute, and Michael McKay, NAN’s Director of Infrastructure and Housing, include:
• Improving housing and infrastructure in communities to benefit the overall health of First Nations peoples.
• Create economic opportunity, eliminate food insecurity and access potable water to allow communities to apply more resources to the upkeep of existing houses.
• Increase housing stock appropriate for local geographic, climatic, and cultural needs matched to solutions that are First Nations led and governed.
Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong, expressed his appreciation to the team that conducted the study, stating, “I want to thank Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the researchers for their work on this study that has found and quantified what First Nations have been saying all along: poor housing conditions are making our children sick.”
Mamakwa added, “Since being elected MPP, I have been telling Doug Ford and this government to take action on fixing the housing crisis in First Nations communities. Some of our elders have died because of the mould. Doug Ford never acted, passing on the responsibility to the federal government.”
“Governments must take this study as an alarm bell, and finally take action to prevent our children from getting sick and being hospitalized and our elders from dying,” added Mamakwa.
The study can be viewed online at https://www.cmaj.ca/content/194/3/E80.