Parliament Video: Jenny speaks to Motion173: Diabetes Awareness Month

Jenny was proud to stand in the House on June 17, 2019, in support of M-173, a motion to declare November as Diabetes Awareness Month. Jenny also believe we need to act, and that we know so many avenues that action can be taken. We just need the political will:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to engage in this important discussion. In 2014, the Steno Diabetes Center in Copenhagen, along with the University College in London and Novo Nordisk, created the cities changing diabetes program. Its aim is to address the social and cultural factors that increase type 2 diabetes vulnerability among certain people in urban centres. The program now includes partnerships with 20 cities around the world. I am proud to say that Vancouver was Canada's first and only city to become involved, and was one of the first 10 cities globally to join the program.

It is estimated that about 9.4% of Vancouverites are living with diabetes, which is comparable to national incidence rates. However, this overall rate hides who is being most impacted. Vancouver is one of Canada's most socially, ethnically and economically diverse cities, and not all groups are affected by diabetes at the same rates. In Vancouver's more affluent neighbourhoods, diabetes rates are as low as 5%, but in the Downtown Eastside, in my riding of Vancouver East, it is 8%. We also know that indigenous people and people of Chinese and South Asian descent are at a disproportionate risk of developing diabetes.

In December 2017, I wrote to the Minister of National Revenue to express my serious concerns over the Liberal government's mishandling of the disability tax credit. Constituents were dismayed that the Canada Revenue Agency was denying the tax credits to those with insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes requires ongoing, expensive treatments. It is not uncommon for an individual to be forced to spend upwards of $10,000 a year on various medical devices and insulin. Often, private insurance plans have gaps that lead to it not being covered, or restrictive caps that leave individuals paying large amounts out of pocket.

It is no wonder that the Canadian Diabetes Association found that 57% of Canadians with diabetes say they do not comply with their therapy because they cannot afford the costs of the supplies, devices and medications. The impacts of this are far reaching. Unable to comply with their therapy, it puts people at increased risk of serious health complications. In addition to the human impact, this adds strain to our health care system, as it must deal with completely avoidable emergency interventions. It does not need to be this way.

New Democrats, since the time we won the fight for medicare in this country under Tommy Douglas, believe that our work will not be done until we also have a universal public pharmacare plan. The health and financial impacts of not having a universal public pharmacare plan are as clear as day when we look at the impacts of diabetes in this country. We must also keep in mind that prevention is cheaper than intervention. We know that there are other social policies we can engage in to reduce the risk of people developing diabetes in the first place. These policies will keep Canadians healthier and save our health care system's valuable resources.

Due to the cost of diabetes therapies, it is without question that those unable to comply due to costs are less financially secure. In Vancouver, much of this has to do with the lack of affordable housing. Whether it is kicking the can down the road on funding the national affordable housing plan instead of breaking ground on projects, or avoiding any action on money-laundering schemes that inflate real estate prices, the Liberal government is failing to address the national housing crisis that is acutely severe in Vancouver and in my riding of Vancouver East. Too often, my constituents are forced to choose between paying rent and paying for insulin. This is wrong.

My colleagues, the member for North Island—Powell River and the member for Hochelaga, have tabled bills in this House to take real action to affirm housing as a human right. It is shameful that the Liberal government does not agree. We also know that diet has a significant impact on increasing the risk of developing diabetes and worsening the condition if one is already living with it. Once again, Canadians struggling to make ends meet find themselves less able to have a healthy, well-balanced diet. Food insecurity in low-income areas leave lower-income Canadians struggling to eat well. This creates a third difficult choice for too many residents of Vancouver East, having to choose rent, medicine or food. Again, it does not need to be this way.

My colleague, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, tabled a bill here to address food waste. Again, both the Liberals and Conservatives opposed our efforts. Another colleague, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, tabled a bill to recognize the importance of local food.

The NDP understands the vital role that food security plays in ensuring that Canadians are healthy and able to contribute to their fullest. We need to do more to both recognize and address the roles that housing and food security play in diabetes prevention and maintenance.

The Vancouver Second Mile Society provides health clinics each year which include diabetes testing. They also do great work with their health programs and preventing seniors from living in isolation and poverty. The Vancouver Native Health Society works to provide knowledge and support for food sustenance development and reducing barriers of access to the natural environment and nutritious traditional foods. They also run a medical clinic which offers a diabetes self-management program, a free learning program to help people with type 2 diabetes better manage their symptoms.

Then there is the Vancouver Chinese Diabetes Education Centre, which exists through partnerships with Vancouver Coastal Health and the Chinese Canadian Medical Society BC and is run out of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. The centre is a great resource for individuals with diabetes and their families to learn about diabetes management, its nature and causes, nutrition and meal planning, the role of exercise and medication and self-monitoring. There is also the kitchen program at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, and the Chinese Elders Community Kitchen with the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

REACH Community Health Centre uses a collaborative model that supports elder health and addresses social factors like loneliness and isolation, as these can be detrimental to overall health and wellness.

I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the incredible work that the neighbourhood houses play, whether it is food programs, cooking clubs or community lunches at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, or the Saige Food Bank and Community Kitchen at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, to just name a few. Vancouver's neighbourhood houses are vital in efforts to improve the health and well-being of my constituents living with diabetes, and all of my constituents for that matter.

I am proud to stand in the House and support Motion No. 173. I also believe we need to act. We know many avenues where action can be taken; we just need the political will.

Diabetes impacts over three million Canadians every day. Its impacts are far ranging, because of the far range of factors that impact the disease itself. That is why I believe we need to be looking at diabetes through a holistic, intersectional lens. It is exercise, diet and food security, and it is housing security and affordability. It is access to health care, and it is access to affordable prescription drugs. So much of this ultimately comes back to income security and equality.

I think this provides a real launching point to examining big-picture changes to social policy and programming. The prevalence and impact of diabetes in our society is far reaching and requires far-reaching actions. One such action that I think we need to discuss is the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's call to justice 4.5, which states, “We call upon all governments to establish a guaranteed annual livable income..”.

Let us take the opportunity that Motion No. 173 provides us to recognize the interconnectedness of all of this, and let us think big about solutions."

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