Alberni children’s health stats prompt action

Alberni and its surrounding areas have some of the highest rates of serious infant health issues and autoimmune disease rats in B.C.

Alberni and its surrounding areas have some of the highest rates of serious infant health issues and autoimmune diseases in the province.

The statistics were revealed in a Local Health Area Profile of Alberni assembled from other organizations material by the Vancouver Island Health Authority in 2011.

The report was recently released to Port Alberni city council and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District.

The report contains demographic information about regional economics, health, births, education, crime, housing and other categories.

According to the report, Alberni’s infant mortality rate is 10.7 per 1,000 people, which is above the B.C. average of 3.4 per 1,000.

As well, infant death and stillbirth rates are 120 per cent and 85 per cent higher respectively than the VIHA average.

At 29.9 per 1,000 there were more children in care in the Alberni Valley than in B.C. (4.2) or VIHA (13). There were also 18.1 cases of child abuse per 1,000, which is higher than B.C. (7) or VIHA (10.9).

The Alberni region also has the highest rate of rheumatoid arthritis and the second highest rate of diabetes in VIHA.

The data is region wide and not Port Alberni specific and therefore must be taken in context, said VIHA Central Vancouver Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback.

“Compared to other rural areas the numbers are consistent.”

As well, infant mortality data is being re-examined for its accuracy, but the issue still needs to be addressed. “We need to look at regional characteristics, programs and gaps in services,” Hasselback said.

At 16 per cent, the Alberni region has a higher aboriginal population than either VIHA (5.8 per cent) or B.C. (4.8 per cent), and this may partially explain the arthritis and diabetes rates.

“The rates among certain aboriginal groups are two to four times higher,” Hasselback said. “But I need to see more data to say that for certain.”

The numbers are disturbing and are a call to action, said Port Alberni city councillor Cindy Solda, who is the city’s appointee to the hospital board.

“They blew me away and were upsetting, but this isn’t the first time statistics have been that low,” Solda said. “It’s time to start doing something about it.”

The Community Health Network is the vehicle to start addressing the issues, Solda said.

The network includes participation by municipal and regional government, community groups, and VIHA. Its mandate is to find solutions to cross-jurisdictional underlying issues affecting health.

They key, Solda said, is not to try to work on the issues holus bolus, but instead to prioritize and tackle them one piece at a time.

“I’d like us to start with the children’s issues and work from there,” Solda said. “I think that starting with children is a step in the right direction.”

The right direction consists of many more steps though, Solda said. “It’s going to take a long time to address this — it won’t be any quick fix.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com