Nepal’s villagers; Canada’s Indigenous People


A Nepali woman gets a pre-birth checkup. (c) UNICEF.

On the surface they are poles apart: Canada, one of the world’s most ‘developed’ nations and Nepal, still classified as a least developed country. But still, I keep finding parallels between villagers in Nepal and Canada’s poorest — Indigenous People. (See a previous post).

In this latest example, after years of lobbying, Health Canada has decided to pay for one individual to accompany pregnant Indigenous women who have to leave isolated communities to give birth in hospitals. Meanwhile, UNICEF and the Nepal government are setting up a free ambulance service for pregnant women in parts of Ramechhap, one of Nepal’s 75 districts.

Without the financial support, says a doctor quoted in Ramechhap, some poor mothers would not be able to give birth in a hospital. 57 per cent of women in Nepal delivered in health facilities in 2016.

Dozens of isolated Indigenous communities in Canada do not have hospitals. In 2014, about 1,200 Indigenous women in one province, Manitoba, flew to the capital Winnipeg to give birth in a hospital, according to an article in the Toronto Star. There are no national statistics on such trips.

Until now, pregnant womens’ requests to have a loved one accompany them were decided on an ad hoc basis, often granted only if the pregnancy was considered high risk. “This practice is disgusting, has no medical basis and needs to stop,” said one doctor quoted in the article who has worked in Indigenous and northern communities for a decade.

Announcing the new policy, Canada’s Health Minister said doctors told her doctors told her about women who were so frightened to travel alone that they would hide their pregnancies, revealing them only in the last minute, in communities that were ill-prepared for deliveries.

Indigenous people in Canada have much different lives than other Canadians, as you can see from the statistics below. Amnesty International recently bestowed its Ambassador of Conscience Award on activists fighting for indigenous rights in the country.

  • First Nations and Inuit infant mortality rates range from 1.7 to more than four times the non-aboriginal rate.
  • Life expectancy for all Canadians is 79 years for men, 83 years for women. Among First Nations people it is 74 (men) and 80 (women).
  • In 2010, the median after-tax income for non-Indigenous people was $27,000 compared to nearly $20,000 for their Indigenous counterparts.
  • The child welfare system for Indigenous children living on reserves receives up to 38 percent less funding than other systems in Canada. That is discrimination, found the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2016.
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