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N.S. hopes race-based data collection will improve health-care accessibility

Eugene Anderson receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Carolyne Aremo at an African Nova Scotian vaccine clinic in Upper Hammonds Plains, N.S.. in 2021. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Eugene Anderson receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Carolyne Aremo at an African Nova Scotian vaccine clinic in Upper Hammonds Plains, N.S.. in 2021. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

A new health-care initiative has been launched to collect voluntary race and language-based data from people applying for, or renewing, their Nova Scotia health card.

The Fair Care Project will use the data to determine if there are factors that prevent some racial groups from having equitable access to health care, according to a provincial news release.

John Ariyo, the executive director of equity and engagement at Nova Scotia Health, said the initiative was called for by stakeholders, partners and community members.

He said the province set up a working group to help guide the project.

Sharon Davis-Murdoch is a member of that group and is co-president and founder of the Health Association of African Canadians.

Disproportionate levels of chronic disease

She said her organization has been calling for health data with race, ethnicity and language identifiers for years.

Submitted by Sharon Davis-Murdoch
Submitted by Sharon Davis-Murdoch

Davis-Murdoch said that anecdotal evidence from the province and from providers indicates that Black people have disproportionate levels of chronic disease.

She said there has also been concern for years about the incidence of prostate cancer in men of African descent, and aggressive forms of breast cancer, shorter pregnancies and preterm births in women of African ancestry.

Davis-Murdoch said there have been stories across the African diaspora of men and women not being listened to by their providers and, as a consequence, going undiagnosed.

She said it is important that people know why the data is being collected and have a sense that their data is safe.

Changing demographic

Ariyo said Nova Scotia's rapidly changing population underscores the need to collect data on race and language.

"Our racialized populations number has gone up by, like, over 60 per cent, so we have a lot of newcomers, a lot of racialized populations moving to Nova Scotia," he said.

"[The data]  helps us to be able to assess what those barriers may be when it comes to accessing health and to ensure that our health-care system is more equitable and responsive to the needs of those diverse populations."

John Ariyo
John Ariyo

Ariyo said the data categories that have been set up are designed to capture the ethnicity, race and language of all Nova Scotians and not solely those who are people of colour.

The project is just one tool that the province will be using to create an overall strategy for ensuring that all Nova Scotians have equitable access to health care, he said.

Davis-Murdoch said it is important for members of the African Canadian community to be part of the process of addressing inequities in the health-care system by self-identifying when they apply for or renew their health cards.

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