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AstraZeneca donates $500,000 to forge health care improvements in Canada’s indigenous communities

February 20, 2015

Dr. Stewart Harris, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor, is collaborating with 12 First Nations communities in six provinces across Canada to identify local health challenges and facilitate better care coordination and improved outcomes for diabetes patients in a community-driven, culturally relevant context.

More than nine million Canadians live with diabetes and prediabetes – a chronic, debilitating and potentially fatal disease if left untreated.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), this disease, in which the body can’t produce, or properly use, insulin (a hormone required to convert glucose into energy) is increasing by epidemic proportions in Canada.

Aboriginal Peoples are among the highest risk group for developing diabetes and related complications, with a prevalence in First Nations communities three to five times higher than the general population. This is due to a number of factors including genetic predisposition, lifestyle and quality of care.


To address this mounting health crisis in First Nations communities, AstraZeneca Canada Inc. has donated $500,000 to Western University in support of the FORGE AHEAD Research Program, led by Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry Professor Dr. Stewart Harris.

“Through FORGE AHEAD, Dr. Harris and his team are working to find practical ways to address an urgent, unmet medical need,” says Ed Dybka, AstraZeneca Canada President and CEO. “This is exactly the kind of critical health challenge that, as a leader in health care, AstraZeneca has a broader responsibility to help address through supporting leading Canadian researchers and organizations.”

As part of the five-year program, which is also funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Dr. Harris and his team will collaborate with 12 First Nations communities in six provinces across Canada to identify local health challenges and facilitate better care coordination and improved outcomes for diabetes patients in a community-driven, culturally relevant context.

Participating communities range from small, remote fly-in reserves of no more than 500 residents to urban communities with populations of up to 10,000.

“This research by Dr. Harris and his team, generously supported by AstraZeneca Canada, is a critical pillar in the effort to reduce not only the risk, but ultimately the tremendous healthcare costs to patients, families and Canadians as the prevalence of diabetes continues to escalate,” says Dr. Michael Strong, dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

In the last 10 to 15 years in Canada, there’s been a renewed emphasis on chronic disease management, which, according to Dr. Harris, has resulted in improved outcomes for Canadian patients suffering from chronic disease, such as diabetes.

This positive reform, however, has not been implemented on reserves, he says, where outcomes for diabetes patients are far worse than the general population.

“When I travel to reserves I’m shocked to see that the model of care delivery is the same as when I traveled to those same communities in 1990,” says Dr. Harris, who is the Canadian Diabetes Association Chair in Diabetes Management and the Ian McWhinney Chair of Family Medicine Studies at Schulich Medicine. “With this generous support to the FORGE AHEAD program, our team aims to develop and evaluate a model of care around diabetes and use it to develop a toolkit that can lead to expansion across the more than 600 First Nations communities in Canada.”  

Ultimately, the hope is that this research will halt and eventually reverse the upward trend of Type 2 diabetes and its associated complications in Aboriginal communities – and that it can be adapted and expanded to address a whole host of chronic diseases in First Nations communities across Canada.

For more information about FORGE AHEAD, please visit the program website: http://www.tndms.ca/forgeahead/index.html


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