Arthritis Consumer Experts

February 14, 2008
For Immediate Release

(Vancouver, BC) — Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) today called attention to the growing crisis of arthritis in Canada's aboriginal communities.

"Aboriginal Canadians are affected by arthritis at a rate significantly higher than those in non-aboriginal populations in Canada," said Cheryl Koehn, president of ACE. "19% of Aboriginal people living off-reserve report having arthritis. If the Aboriginal population had the same age composition as the overall Canadian population, this rate would be 27%."

Koehn noted that arthritis occurring in Aboriginal people is more debilitating, and more likely to be life-threatening than arthritis in non-aboriginals. The most serious forms of arthritis-the inflammatory, autoimmune types of the disease-are far more prevalent in aboriginal communities. These diseases, if left untreated, can often make it impossible for an individual to work and contribute as a productive member of society.

"Though data are not available for First Nations people living on-reserve, we know that for those living off-reserve the prevalence of serious inflammatory arthritis is about 5%. This compares to 1% of the total population of Canada", Koehn explained.

Significantly higher rates of arthritis, in the context of poverty and other health concerns facing Aboriginal Canadians, are cause for great concern for health professionals who work in Aboriginal communities.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that many Aboriginal Canadians cannot access the medications their specialists are prescribing for their arthritis, as the medication reimbursement coverage provided by the federal Non-Insured Health Benefit (NIHB) plan is some of the most restrictive in Canada.

Dr. Christine Peschken, Assistant Professor, Departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, stated, "Biologic response modifiers, used in combination with other medications are the current gold standard in treatment for moderate to severe inflammatory arthritis. Tragically, First Nations and Inuit people, who have a higher burden of arthritis than other Canadians, and who are supposed to be covered by the NIHB, do not have reimbursement access to the full range of biologic response modifiers, or have to fail more medications compared to non-First Nations people prior to accessing them, resulting in delayed treatment. Depending on their type of disease, First Nations people may have no access at all. This is medically and morally unacceptable."

Dr. Peschken explained that in First Nations and Inuit people with rheumatoid arthritis, the NIHB dictates which biologic response modifier a person is able to access, rather than allowing the physician and patient to choose the best of the three available based on the patient's disease, ability to self-administer the medication, cultural beliefs, and a host of other considerations. For those living with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, the NIHB allows no choice at all as they have refused to place them on the list for reimbursement in any way - in effect, creating a class of second-class citizens within the community.

"What is happening to Aboriginal Canadians with arthritis is a tragedy that must be addressed immediately," said Koehn. "It is the right of every Canadian, regardless of their culture or place of residence, to access our universal public healthcare system."

About ACE

Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) is a national organization that provides research-based information and education to Canadians with arthritis. The organization helps to empower people living with all forms of arthritis to take control of their disease and to take action in health care and research decision making. ACE is led by people with arthritis and its activities are guided by a strict set of guiding principles, and by an advisory board comprised of leading scientists, medical professionals and informed arthritis activists.

- 30 -

For more information, please contact:

Quincey Kirschner
(778) 847-9793