Dr. André CorriveauSo far from home

The 1 in 3 team had the opportunity to ask Dr. André Corriveau, Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Northwest Territories, a couple of questions about cancer control in the North.

Dr. Corriveau has extensive northern experience in public health services. Prior to his current role, he served as the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Alberta, and the Chief Public Health Officer for the Northwest Territories. He is the provincial-territorial co-chair of the Public Health Network.

Dr. Corriveau received his degree in medicine from McGill University in 1981, and completed a residency in community medicine and a Masters in Business Administration at Laval University in 1986.

What is the biggest challenge to First Nations, Inuit and Métis with regards to cancer control in the North?

The Northwest Territories is home to a very small population in a vast area and the majority of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people live in small, remote communities. This makes the cancer pathway a daunting one. From diagnosis through treatment and survivorship, cancer patients must navigate a complicated circuit of services that takes them from the primary health-care centers in their home communities to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife and the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton—then back home again.

So far from home and removed from their families and community supports, First Nations, Inuit and Métis cancer patients face additional challenges such as language barriers or an absence of culturally-appropriate support resources, which makes arranging flights and accommodation through Medical Travel, for example, all the more confusing.

Even at the community level, language and cultural divides between local community members and primary-care providers impact the effectiveness of health promotion and cancer prevention activities and resources, as well as participation rates in screening programs.

The challenges are complex and interconnected, but we expect to progress in their resolution as we work with communities and other partners such as the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

What can you tell us about the Northwest Territories’ Cancer Control Strategy?

In recent years, the Government of the Northwest Territories has published several strategies and frameworks that encourage healthy behaviour. While these certainly contribute to reducing the uptake of major cancer risk factors such as tobacco or alcohol use, physical inactivity, and inadequate diet, cancer control benefits indirectly.

In 2014, the Government of the Northwest Territories will release our first territorial cancer strategy. This strategy will combine epidemiological evidence with community knowledge—including lessons shared by cancer survivors—to lessen our cancer burden and reduce inequities with respect to cancer and cancer care.

The strategy will emphasize raising awareness to prevent and detect cancer; improving the continuity of cancer care from delivery of diagnosis through survivorship; and enhancing the quality of life lived by cancer patients.

All strategy components will be viewed through an equity lens, with close examination of the social determinants of health, to address disparities between different groups, as well as nurture cultural safety and cultural sensitivity in cancer prevention and care.

For more information on the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services please visit their website.