Diverse Populations in the Healthcare Policy: Challenges of Eliminating the Disparities in Canada

Healthcare is and will always be one of the top pillars upheld by every state, country, region, continent, and world as a whole. It is one subject that cannot be compromised and receives well-deserved attention and action from government institutions, academics and researchers, Non-Governmental Organizations, the private sector, Not-for-profit Organizations, and the global community. 

Noting this prominence, how then can we make sure healthcare is accessible, of high quality, equitable, and accounted for? Healthcare policy.

Globally, the formulation and execution of healthcare policies are not always a walk in the park. In fact, policymakers are faced with constant and various challenges as they do their best to deliver all-inclusive and effective healthcare policies.

One of the major challenges is the elimination or inclusivity of population disparities to deliver healthcare policies that promote equality and are all-inclusive. 

Let’s take a deeper look at this challenge in Canada.

Population Diversity in Canada

Canada is the second largest country in the world. As much as this is something to pride in for Canadians and their government, it comes with its share of healthcare policy challenges.

In addition to race and ethnicity, Canada is diverse in terms of language, religious affiliations, gender, socioeconomic level, sexual orientation, and physical and mental ability.

Here is a good example of population diversity; research estimates that by 2041, there will be 25 million immigrants or children of immigrants who were born in Canada. This makes up 52.4% of the country’s population, estimated to total 47.7 million people by 2041. Eyebrow-raising right?

Notably, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal continue to have the highest concentration of immigrants.

The next question we should be asking next is, ‘ how does or will the Canada healthcare policy equitably address these disparities?’ Let’s dig deeper.

The Healthcare Policy in Canada

According to the 1984 Canada Health Act (CHA), the main goal of the country’s healthcare policy is to “protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.

The Canadian Medicare is a decentralized, publically funded, and universal healthcare system.

The five pillars of the Canada Health Act require that every provincial and territorial (P/T) health insurance plan be the following:

  • Publicly operated
  • Comprehensive in terms of coverage
  • Universal
  • Transferable amongst provinces
  • Accessible 

We must agree this is a robust and all-inclusive policy, in theory. Is the execution as smooth as it sounds on paper?

The Challenge

The Canada Health Act aims to ensure equal access to health care and services, but it does not ensure access to the factors that contribute to good health, including a person’s economic situation, occupation, age, ethnicity, and gender, as several studies have shown. These factors form the foundation of the diverse population disparities in Canada’s healthcare policy.

Let’s briefly look into each factor to get a clearer picture of this challenge.

One, the geographical distinction between urban and rural locations in Canada is a key disparity. Diverse initiatives are required to address the health issues and unique requirements of various communities. Health gaps result from this geographical disparity.

Two, the main determinant of mortality, illness, and disability is the economic position of the Canadians. As a result, low-income populations tend to live shorter lives, spend fewer years without a handicap, and have higher rates of diseases like high blood pressure, chronic lung diseases, and mental health issues. Additionally, they are less likely to use healthcare services and engage in behaviours that promote good health. Elderly individuals, the unemployed, welfare recipients, single mothers caring for children, and minorities, including native-born people and immigrants, are among the groups recognized as having a higher likelihood of experiencing poor health within the low-income category.

Three, health issues differ for young individuals and the elderly depending on their age, which is another aspect. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among young people of both sexes, who, throughout their teen and early adult years, experience significant biological and social changes, followed by suicide, cancer, and homicide. Heart disease, arthritis, and hypertension are a few of the age-related chronic diseases that affect older Canadians. 

Four considerations for health policy are varied by gender. Women experience chronic illness more than men do, despite living longer. Due in part to their duty as mothers, women utilize health services more frequently than men do. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, cardiac treatments have primarily been designed for men, and there is evidence that women receive less medical attention. Particular issues, such as eating disorders and unexpected pregnancies, are faced by young women.

Lastly, aboriginal people, immigrants, and other cultural minorities frequently lack access to services sensitive to their linguistic and cultural distinctions. The high rate of youthful suicide and the high rates of diabetes and TB among native people are both caused by unfavourable social and economic situations.


Now you understand the challenge that faces healthcare policymakers in Canada. In fact, this challenge is directly or indirectly faced by government institutions, academics and researchers, Non-Governmental Organizations, the private sector, Not-for-profit Organizations, and the global community. 

Therefore, it is not only the responsibility of the policymakers to ensure that these disparities are addressed but of all interested parties. This is a collaborative effort. 


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What is ‘Health Equity’?

Health equity is achieved when everyone has equal opportunity to “attain the full health potential”, regardless of their gender identity, their sexual orientation, the color

Ika Washington

Ika Washington founded DiversityTalk intending to create a platform and consultancy that can work with organizations and corporations to engage with marginalized and underrepresented groups within the health and social service space. 
Ika Washington is a public health professional specializing in health policy and equity. She is passionate about best engagement practices, building meaningful partnerships, programs and services to improve the complex social and health problems impacting communities. Equipped with a diverse experience, including governance and regulatory affairs, policy development and implementation, health research design, and project management, coupled with an M.Sc focusing on social science and a progressive Ph.D. in Health Policy and Equity,  Ika thrives on being solution-based to improve spaces for marginalized groups and improve business designs. 
Ika’s work experience includes working as a Policy Analyst and Program Specialist at Health Canada and Regional Lead for an Indigenous Health Authority serving over 31 First Nations communities in Ontario. In leading the stage as a global speaker, she has been featured in Leafly, Globe and Mail, The Green Room, GrowOp, Postmedia, and guested on various podcasts and documentaries.
Ph.D in Health Policy & Equity – York University (progressive) 
M.Sc. in Social Science – University of Southampton (UK)
B.Sc. in Biology (Ecosystem & Health) – Western University