Assessing Needs: Asthma in First Nations and Inuit Communities in Canada


Objective: To explore the perceptions and experiences of asthma and related allergies in First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada to assess needs. Study Design: A mixed-method study using telephone surveys and focus groups in First Nations and Inuit communities of Canada.

Methods: An initial environmental scan provided a comprehensive understanding of the population characteristics needed to design the study and develop the survey questionnaire and focus group materials. Data were collected using telephone surveys with community health personnel and focus groups with community members (e.g., parents, children, and school personnel) affected by asthma to assess the burden of illness and to gain in-depth understanding of community health resources and supports.

Results: Risk factors such as smoking; housing; and air quality, along with access to adequate expertise and knowledgeable health care professionals, were found to be barriers to asthma care in both First Nations and Inuit communities. Gaps in family and community resources were seen as contributing to heightened perception of risk of respiratory health outcomes, particularly with children and elderly people. Parents, in particular, identified the need for community resources (i.e., certified asthma educators) and culturally relevant educational materials to increase education and awareness of the implications of smoking and lung health. Community health providers emphasized the importance of developing a framework for asthma and allergy care to improve disease detection and management and to assess resource needs to bridge gaps for families living in remote areas.

Conclusions: Respiratory health represents a challenge to First Nations and Inuit community members. Increasing access to health care services through certified asthma educators and culturally relevant awareness, education, and detection strategies require a coordinated approach to mitigate this burden of illness.

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