Local Journalism Initiative
GATINEAU – Local health rights advocacy organization Action Santé Outaouais (ASO) hosted a public event on the impact of income on the right to health at the Maison du Citoyen in Gatineau, September 21. The event included presentations from Eve-Lyne Couturier from the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS) and Vincent Greason from the Ligues des droits et libertés which raised awareness about the influence of socioeconomic factors on health in the Outaouais.
Among the issues Couturier highlighted were the challenges faced by people living in rural areas to access health services. “The cost of living outside urban centers is higher and it’s harder to get out of poverty. Transportation costs to access basic services is a big reason for this. When a family lives outside of the city, they often need multiple cars. Accessing affordable groceries is also more difficult and those living in rural areas have to travel long distances to see a dentist, psychologist, or physiotherapist,” said Couturier.
While social welfare policies were seen as important for addressing poverty, Couturier highlighted how protecting the right to health entails deeper social change. “Yes, society should provide monetary support to the poor, but we should also address the social determinants of health and work to improve society. We should pay attention to improving work conditions, the environment, quality of housing, and access to healthy food. Poverty and its impact on health is partly a question of money, but it’s also a question of society itself,” said Couturier.
In his presentation, Greason spoke about how the right to health means more than access to treatment when sick. “When we speak about issues related to healthcare, we often talk about the cost of medication, emergency room wait times, and the new hospital. While these are important, the right to health is much broader – it means being in the best possible condition of health and encompasses a range of social and economic factors.” He noted that – in addition to income – Health Canada considers education and literacy, childhood experiences, social support, gender, race, and culture among other social and economic factors that influence health.
Greason emphasized the importance of free preventative care as one practical step to address the impact of low income on health. He noted how those with low income tend not to seek preventative treatment such as regular dental care because it’s not covered by the public system. “When you don’t have money to pay for dental care, you aren’t thinking about prevention. You only go to the dentist when there’s a problem, but when there’s already a problem, the treatment will be more expensive,” said Greason.
“The right to health raises important questions for our entire political system, economic system, and for democratic participation in society in general because, at the end of the day, people are neither objects nor numbers but citizens,” concluded Action-Santé director Mathieu Charbonneau, emphasizing the importance of public involvement in promoting the right to health. He said more events will be held in the Outaouais in the coming months which will build on this event and examine related themes.
ASO promotes citizen participation in healthcare governance across the Outaouais. Since its inception in the 1970s, ASO has advocated for the right to free and equal access to healthcare, particularly among vulnerable populations, through promoting education and citizen involvement in health governance.