Health research centre to open in Yellowknife

Dianne Kinnon with the National Aboriginal Health Organization says the new facility will help to improve the way health programs are designed.

Researchers will no longer have to travel south to analyze information about northerners' health.

A new Statistics Canada data centre will soon open in Yellowknife and it will be the first of its kind in the North.

To mark its opening, health experts gathered in Yellowknife to talk about ways to improve health research across the circumpolar world.

Dianne Kinnon with the National Aboriginal Health Organization says the facility will improve the way health care programs are designed.

“Someone up here could actually look at the statistics on different social and economic issues, some health conditions, and do a comparison, community to community or territory to territory,” said Kinnon.

Kinnon hopes there will be more research that looks at differences between populations such as non-aboriginal people, First Nations and Inuit.

“You will see major differences, for example, around smoking. The Inuit smoking rate is very high and the kinds of interventions you would design for Inuit would be very different from non-Inuit because of culture, history,” Kinnon said.

Janet Kelly is an epidemiologist who surveys cancer rates among the indigenous population in Alaska. She says health problems amongst populations can be overlooked if regions are studied without highlighting ethnicity.

“You can look at what's working in one population and apply it to the other, or you can identify your barriers,” said Kelly. “That's where you can put your money. The people who are faring worse certainly need the attention.”

Susan Chatwood is the executive director for the Institute of Circumpolar Health Research. She hopes the new centre will allow researchers to look at factors which contribute to health problems and lead to better ways of diagnosing northerners.

"You can look at health status, health outcomes, some of the issues we see emerging in terms of diabetes and cancers. So you can get basic numbers, what we would call the burden of disease, how much we're seeing in different communities and compare them among different groups," said Chatwood.

Chatwood adds southern research may not always be applicable to remote northern communities. She says having a data centre in Yellowknife will allow researchers to work in closer proximity to the populations they're studying.

The Statistics Canada centre is expected to open next spring.