April 11, 2019 - 9:45am
Sometimes all it takes to influence positive change is to put an idea in front of the right people.
Vancouver Island University (VIU) Masters of Business Administration student Alvin Meledath wanted to raise awareness about the challenges Indigenous communities face in accessing health care and present real solutions to the issue. His paper – “Reconciling the Indigenous Doctor Shortage Gap: Change through a Collaborative Community Empowered Network” – achieved that goal, as it was chosen as one of five finalists in the National Student Paper Competition hosted by the Government of Canada and administered through the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC).
The competition invites students in master’s and PhD programs to submit their research papers on issues the impact the Canadian public service. The five finalists will have their papers posted on the IPAC website and Meledath will present his paper to a panel of deputy ministers.
“I feel very humbled by the opportunity to present my paper to so many influential people in the public sector,” says Meledath. “Hopefully, I can inspire them enough to apply some of my framework to improve upon their approach to this issue.”
Meledath, from Mumbai, India, came to Canada only eight months ago. At that time, he knew very little about Canadian Indigenous communities. During his orientation at VIU, Meledath participated in the Blanket Exercise, a unique history lesson that fosters truth, understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
“Through that exercise I was able to become acquainted with Indigenous peoples,” he says. “I come from a country where I am a minority as well. Although our stories are different, I could relate to the challenges Indigenous communities here and minority groups back home face, specifically around access to health care.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls upon all levels of government to increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field, ensure retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities and provide cultural competency training for all health-care professionals.
“There is a lot of progress being made by individual stakeholders, though there still needs to be more collaboration, and that is what my paper addresses,” says Meledath.
According to a 2016 Statistics Canada census, of the 93,985 specialists and general practitioners in Canada, only 760 identify as Indigenous. Chronic diseases like diabetes are more prevalent in Indigenous communities, and life expectancy is substantially shorter than the general population. To tackle these issues, Meledath created a framework based on ideas implemented around the world.
“Although these concepts are used across the world, I believe we can take these ideas and craft them to meet our needs of our Canadian communities,” he says.
Meledath’s proposed framework consists of a pay it forward program, advocacy and research, sensitization accreditation and e-rural clinic centres. The pay it forward program would create a network of students funded and mentored by fellow professionals. The research component would focus on collecting much-needed data about Indigenous communities' access to health-care and care conditions in order to provide substantial documentation for advocacy purposes. The sensitization accreditation would ensure that health-care professionals are creating inclusive environments in their practices. The e-rural clinic centres provide health-care services and education to communities that typically do not have access to in-person care.
“E-clinics are already being used in Canada in larger cities, but they could really benefit rural communities where access to a doctor isn’t readily accessible,” says Meledath.
The Grand Prize winner of the paper competition will be announced in early spring.
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University