U of S researchers partner with First Nations, U of R, FNUniv on $1.5 million respiratory health initiative

Saskatchewan First Nations communities may soon breathe easier thanks to knowledge created by researchers from the University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina, and First Nations University of Canada, in partnership with the communities of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, and Montreal Lake Cree Nation.

By Mark Ferguson

The research partners were recently awarded more than $1.5 million over five years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health (CIHR IAPH) to conduct baseline evaluations, intervention activities, and prospective evaluations of respiratory health in First Nations children and adults.

"There are many factors that contribute to poor respiratory health in First Nations communities, such as housing conditions," says U of S researcher Jim Dosman, who co-leads the research team. "The knowledge we create together will help us focus our resources and target our efforts to help communities improve the health of their people."

The research team will look at conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obstructive sleep apnea. Communities will work in partnership with the researchers to develop methods to help address these conditions and promote health. The team plans to start work in the partner communities this spring.

First Nations people suffer from rates of respiratory illness much higher than the general population. A variety of factors contribute to the situation, including limited access to health services, poor air quality, diet, obesity and overcrowded housing.

In Saskatchewan, 53 per cent of houses on First Nations reserves need major repairs. Poor housing conditions (e.g. overcrowding, dampness and mold) lead to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, sleep apnea, pulmonary disease and asthma. In children less than a year old, rates of hospitalization are two to three times higher than the Canadian average.

The team's other co-leaders are U of S researchers Punam Pahwa and Sylvia Abonyi along with Jo-Ann Episkenew from the Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre (IPHRC) at its University of Regina site. The IPHRC is a joint initiative of the First Nations University of Canada, the University of Regina, and the University of Saskatchewan.