How we're working to improve cancer care for First Nations people in BC
A message from Dr. Kelsey Louie, Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer, FNHA
Sunday, February 4 marks World Cancer Day—a time to raise awareness of cancer, to honour the spirits lost to cancer and acknowledge the grief of their loved ones, and to show support for and send strength to those currently enduring cancer journeys. We can also celebrate those in remission and their continued wellness, and acknowledge and honour the challenges that cancer patients, their families, and survivors face every day, not just on World Cancer Day.
This year's theme for the day, “Close the Care Gap," aligns with what we're working towards at the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Closing the care gap, or, in other words, achieving fair and equitable health care that is culturally safe and free of racism or discrimination, is the FNHA's main goal.
The FNHA continues to work with First Nations people in BC to transform the healthcare system and close the gap in health care outcomes. Together, we are persevering and making progress toward addressing or shedding light on ways to improve access to health care services, education, employment, and other social determinants of health.
Due to the remoteness of many First Nations communities, many First Nations people have difficulty accessing care and services, such as cancer screening, and have to travel some distance to do so. Since early detection is critical as it means earlier treatment and possible prevention, the FNHA has been partnering with BC Cancer to support improving access and bringing care closer to home. Our work includes the newly launched HPV self-swab screening program, which allows individuals to order kits by mail, complete them in the comfort of their own home, and mail them back.
We are also exploring opportunities for mobile mammography vans to visit First Nations communities. In collaboration with our Health Directors, who will help ensure culturally safe delivery, BC Cancer is piloting an initiative to visit several First Nations communities on Vancouver Island in March 2024.
We have been working with and listening closely to First Nations communities and other partners to identify ways to improve current processes and make them culturally safe, addressing overall cancer education and health literacy for our communities, improving the treatment journey (including by employing Indigenous patient navigators and improving the physical layout of cancer centres), supporting access to primary care physicians via the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day program, and establishing new primary care centres. We have been pleased to see a greater willingness among health care providers to acknowledge and accept that First Nations clients want traditional healing approaches as part of their care.
We have also developed a 10-year joint strategy to improve Indigenous cancer journeys in BC. It is a guiding framework to support the collective work to close the gap and improve cancer-related experiences for First Nations people.
This year, we led a Cancer Screening Campaign in partnership with BC Cancer to support awareness, encourage conversations, and make a call to action.
We also have an FNHA Cancer Chair supporting First Nations research, and are working to obtain and share cancer care data specific to our people and determine the best ways to report and present this information to community—utilizing data to drive quality, programs, services and more.
The FNHA will continue to work to transform the cancer care experience for our people, in partnership with Provincial Health Services Authority, the Government of BC, BC Cancer, and other health care partners. We have more work to do, but we are slowly harnessing change and momentum across many different areas to improve the overall experience with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes for BC First Nations people.
For more information about our work and about cancer prevention, screening, treatment, recovery and more, visit FNHA.ca/Cancer.