Canadian doctors consider poverty as potential diagnosable disease

Photo Courtesy of godhelpusall.com

Photo Courtesy of godhelpusall.com

Fostering the development of more financial supportive social programs


By: Caitlin McKay, Staff Writer

Is poverty a diagnosable disease? The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) seems to think so.  This month, CMA president, Dr. Anna Reid, told an ‘All Party Anti-Poverty Caucus’ that poverty reduction “could be one of the most effective population health interventions possible.”

Money can’t buy good health. However, if you gather the statistics, there might be an argument as to why money can buy preventative health care.

People who face poverty live under extreme stress and this pressure results in a physical strain on the body. As a result of this stress, these people are more vulnerable to serious health problems including cardiovascular and disrupted immune systems. Researchers found that heart attacks are far more common in poor areas than wealthier neighbourhoods. Additionally, people who live in extreme stress, adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol, drugs or over-eating. Some doctors are now diagnosing their patients with poverty and consider their health problems as symptoms of a bigger issue.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Dr. Gary Bloch with St. Michael’s Hospital said, “Treating people at low income with a higher income will have at least as big an impact on their health as any other drugs that I could prescribe them.”

[pullquote]For patients that we do manage to get on income supports, their lives often really turn around.[/pullquote]

This inner city family doctor asks all his patients about their income and where they get it along with the standard medical questions. While questions about personal income might just seem unrelated, Dr. Bloch considers this information to be a vital component of a patient’s medical history.

“I do see poverty as a disease,” Dr. Bloch told the CBC.

To assist the low income patients, Dr. Bloch helps them finding financial support and planning either through federal or provincial social programs. Such financially related treatment seems to improve the issue thus far.

“I absolutely see the improvement in my patients’ health. For patients that we do manage to get on income supports, their lives often really turn around,” Dr. Bloch told the CBC.

The World Health Organization states that poverty is the single largest determinant of health and largely considers poor social policy to be the underlying cause. As a long term health care plan, going the social policy route appears to be cheaper. In her presentation to the ‘All Party Anti-Poverty Caucus’ on Parliament Hill, Dr. Anna Reid claimed 20 per cent of health care spending goes toward care for illnesses and diseases which are caused by poverty living. Dr. Reid and the CMA urged the government to develop strategies that would reduce poverty and, as a result, lead to healthier Canadians.

It might be time for the Canadian government to write a new prescription on how to deal with income inequality and high poverty level. Canada may fair better than the United States, but, when compared to other high income countries with their already implemented social policies, Canada looks to be in poor health.

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