Vulnerability of aboriginal health systems in Canada to climate change

Ford, J.D., L. Berrang-Ford, M. King, and C. Furgal (In press). Global Environmental Change. Find PDF.

Climate change has been identified as potentially the biggest health threat of the 21st century. Canada in general has a well developed public health system and low burden of health which will moderate vulnerability. However, there is significant heterogeneity in health outcomes, and health inequality is particularly pronounced among Aboriginal Canadians. Intervention is needed to prevent, prepare for, and manage climate change effects on Aboriginal health but is constrained by a limited understanding of vulnerability and its determinants. Despite limited research on climate change and Aboriginal health, however, there is a well established literature on Aboriginal health outcomes, determinants, and trends in Canada; characteristics that will determine vulnerability to climate change. In this paper we systematically review this literature, using a vulnerability framework to identify the broad level factors constraining adaptive capacity and increasing sensitivity to climate change. Determinants identified include: poverty, technological capacity constraints, socio-political values and inequality, institutional capacity challenges, and information deficit. The magnitude and nature of these determinants will be distributed unevenly within and between Aboriginal populations necessitating place-based and regional level studies to examine how these broad factors will affect vulnerability at lower levels. The study also supports the need for collaboration across all sectors and levels of government, open and meaningful dialogue between policy makers, scientists, health professionals, and Aboriginal communities, and capacity building at a local level, to plan for climate change. Ultimately, however, efforts to reduce the vulnerability of Aboriginal Canadians to climate change and intervene to prevent, reduce, and manage climate-sensitive health outcomes, will fail unless the broader determinants of socio-economic and health inequality are addressed.

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