Improving health equity through cross-cultural collaboration: Learning from Indigenous-developed programs to strengthen public health systems in preventing the harms of substance use in BC

A function of public health systems and services is to reduce health inequities. The harms of substance use impact British Columbians differently based on their social position and access to resources. Over the last decade, BC has had renewed interest in health equity as demonstrated by several key policy documents. Initial research findings however, have demonstrated that the application of a health equity lens is a challenge for public health decision makers and practitioners. However, for many public health service providers, First Nations and Aboriginal health organizations and service providers are seen as leaders in the understanding and application of health equity principles.

Accordingly, there is an immense opportunity in BC for collaboration and learning with First Nations and Aboriginal health partners to optimize health equity for all British Columbians. Despite these opportunities, little is known about the synergies between Indigenous knowledge and health equity strategies related to the reduction of harms of substance use in BC. In particular, more research is needed to understand if Indigenous approaches to health and wellness can be imported into the current BC public health system and to  explore how Indigenous-developed programs and services can inform health equity strategies related to reducing the harms of substance use in BC public health systems and services.

This research project will be one of the first to systematically examine how health equity strategies in the BC public health system could benefit from Indigenous knowledge and worldviews. This project has the potential to impact the health of all British Columbians by informing the development of more equitable health programs and services. In addition, by prioritizing Indigenous ontologies and processes, this project also has implications for how Aboriginal communities in BC are perceived and esteemed, thereby having the potential also to specifically improve the well-being of those communities. In addition, this prioritization has the potential to mitigate epistemological colonialism and shift power relations which are integral in promoting health equity for Indigenous peoples.

Dr. Shahram received a 2017 Health Policy Fellowship to promote Indigenous health in BC’s southern interior by integrating cultural safety and health equity assessments into the fabric of the Interior Health. Her 2016 Trainee Award will placed on hold during her health policy fellowship assignment.