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To improve health, tackle poverty: CMA report

The CMA's nationwide consultation with Canadians about the social determinants of health has delivered a clear message: poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians and eliminate health inequities.

"In a nutshell, we heard that the biggest barrier to good health is poverty," CMA President Anna Reid said during the July 30 release of a summary report, What Makes Us Sick? "I think if we could eliminate childhood poverty we would go a long way to achieving a healthier population." The report was prepared following a series of six town-hall meetings and an online consultation that attracted more than 1,000 participants. It was released during a news conference at the Centretown Community Health Centre in Ottawa, where Reid was joined at the podium by Fred Phelps, executive director of the Canadian Association of Social Workers.

Reid said the report "does not point fingers," but it does indicate that many people believe the country can do a better job dealing with issues such as poverty, homelessness, early childhood development and food security, all of which can affect a person's chances of being healthy.

"There is no one sector responsible for making this happen," she added. "It has to be a joint effort, involving health care providers, governments, patients and Canadians from all backgrounds."

Reid noted that the report's 12 recommendations were not provided by the CMA, but rather reflect the views expressed by participants in the town-hall meetings and online consultation. They cover a wide range of topics, and start with a call for "federal, provincial and territorial governments [to] give top priority to developing an action plan to eliminate poverty in Canada." A second recommendation proposes that a guaranteed-annual-income approach for dealing with poverty be evaluated and tested through a major pilot project.

Two recommendations deal specifically with Aboriginal health issues. The health challenges facing Aboriginal people were the focus of the first town-hall meeting, held in Winnipeg in January.

What Makes Us Sick? is the latest report to emerge from the CMA's health care transformation initiative, a broad-ranging, multiyear plan to modernize and improve Canada's health care system. Another report released earlier this year provided guidance for physicians on how to address health inequities relating to the social determinants of health within their own practices.

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