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Research on diabetes in First Nations earns funding

​A new research project examining diabetes within Ontario’s First Nations peoples and helping to develop new programs and policies has received funding that will allow it to move ahead.

The project is led by Dr. Mike Green, associate professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at Queen’s University. Dr. Jennifer Walker, assistant professor in the school of Human and Social Development at Nipissing University and a Fellow at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), and Dr. Kristen Jacklin, associate professor in Medical Anthropology at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, are serving as co-principle investigators.

The work has received a $770,000 IMPACT Award from the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT Unit (OSSU). With the support, the three-year project, in partnership with the Chiefs of Ontario as well as the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Nipissing University and ICES, will gather data on diabetes, assess it and then use that information for the betterment of the communities.

“We will be producing a comprehensive assessment of diabetes, its complications and the health services use associated with that across the province for First Nations people,” said Dr. Green. “We are going to be looking at their access to care and we’ll be studying specific policies that the stakeholder groups bring up. We’re going to be working very closely with them in a very integrated way in order to turn that data into information and knowledge that is useful to them in their decision-making about program delivery and policy making and to improve outcomes.”

“The project will help to bring together complex information about a complicated health challenge,” said Dr. Walker, who specializes in epidemiology. “The strong partnership with the Chiefs of Ontario will provide a unique opportunity for Indigenous-driven health systems research. Routinely collected health data are used for decision-making in health care all the time, but we rarely look at the data from a First Nations perspective. This project will be responsive to the needs, perspectives and experiences of First Nations people in Ontario."

Diabetes rates have been increasing substantially across the province, including within the First Nations population. Some of the complications associated with diabetes include renal failure, cardiovascular disease and amputations.

The funding through the award, one of only seven being handed out, will help address the issue directly.

“The award will allow us to do a lot of the data work but also a substantial amount of the funding is actually going to that engagement with patients and stakeholders,” said Dr. Green. “One of the really innovative things about this project is that these really are not our research questions. As a researcher, this isn’t me saying I’ve got an idea, let’s go out and test it. This is our academic team going to our partners and asking what’s important to you, what should we be studying, and working with them to identify those things and move them forward.”

“Reducing diabetes in our communities is a priority and I am hopeful that this research with the involvement of our First Nation diabetes patients will make this research meaningful and real. Hearing the voice of First Nations individuals who are living with diabetes tell their stories will be important in evaluating those policies that affect the lives of First Nations citizens in Ontario,” states Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee, Chair of the Ontario Chiefs Committee on Health.

The IMPACT Awards are designed to bring together diverse stakeholders – patients, clinicians, researchers, policy makers, knowledge users, industry and other health sector participants – to develop and implement promising research opportunities that improve patient health outcomes and advance our health system. The OSSU is a collaboration across 12 leading Ontario health research centres and is jointly funded by the Government of Ontario and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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