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Term Paper: Social Determinants of Health and Indigenous People

7 pages
1809 words
Sewanee University of the South
Type of paper: 
Term paper
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Health starts with the environment people live in which can result in reduced or good health. Social determinants of health are conditions such as physical, economic and environmental factors that have an impact on the health status of populations. The Public Health Agency of Canada describes social determinants of health as physical environment, personal health practices and coping skills, gender, healthy child development, culture, working conditions, social status, education, social support networks and social environments ("Social Determinants of Health," Canadian Best Practices Portal). According to an event reported by CBCnews, Potlotek residents were advised that the water was unsafe for drinking or washing. There were concentrations of iron and manganese which exceeded Canadians guidelines for drinking water quality. Health problems such as skin lesions and digestive problems were reported. The social health determinants revolving around this case include the physical environment, social environment, and social status. This paper discusses the importance of the three social determinants and their relevance to the water event in Potlotek. The physical environment can affect the health of an individual in several ways. There are harmful substances found in the physical environment such. The physical environment entails soil, water, and air. Dangerous minerals can be present in water due to agricultural and industrial activities and leakage of underground storage tanks. Health officers and governments should work together to reduce the exposure of harmful substances. People who experience dirty water due to excess minerals can be termed as negligence to counter the effects. The social environment factor deals with the physical and social settings which people live in. Culture is a form of social environment. Poor economic and social circumstances affect the health of people in a community. When there is discrimination among communities and inequitable distribution of resources, poor social standards arise. Reduced social standards manifest through poor living conditions which involve water and housing problems. Bad housing conditions escalate reduced water problems due to lack of proper systems (Gore & Kothari,2012). Social status is a determinant that can contribute to either good or bad health conditions. Income determines the social standards of a person. Low wages can cause severe health consequences due to lack of proper health services. Indigenous communities in Canada have low wages which affect treatment of health problems and encourages discrimination of provision of good services that can prevent poor sanitation.

The Nova Scotia Indigenous community, Potlotek were struggling with discolored, smelly tap water. Access to clean water is a physical environment determinant. In the Canadian case, residents were supplied with dirty water, and they were advised not to use it in any way. Dirty and smelly water is as a result of manganese and iron high concentration. According to health experts in Canada, there are seasonal temperature changes which result in the changes of mineral level. The water problem was challenging for the elderly, pregnant women, children and the sick. The people were dependent on bottled water and community showers. Advised from health Canada not to use the water showed that it could result in wellbeing problems despite claims that the water did not have such effects. The physical environment is paramount with regards to peoples health. Manganese naturally occurs in soil and rocks and can be found in underground water. Low concentration is not harmful according to water regulations, but high levels can cause health problems. High exposure results in brain toxicity which mainly affects children. Kids exposed to high levels of manganese have low performance than those who consume less. Young ones absorb more and excrete less manganese which results to low brain performance. Therefore, pregnant mothers are at risk of affecting their unborn babies if they do not have enough access to clean drinking water. Iron is essential in the human diet, but in excess, it can cause iron overload which can lead to heart, liver and pancreatic damage as well as diabetes (Softening, Harmful Effects of High Levels of Iron in Water). Excess iron in the body causes skin conditions such as eczema and acne due to clogging of pores. Despite the claim that the water did not cause health problems, there is a reason why the people were advised not to use it by Health Canada. Excess manganese and iron can cause health problems which were reported by various people in the community.

Social environment determines to what extent people are affected by health problems. Social variables that influence the wellbeing of a community include equal distribution of resources and social equality. The indigenous people in Canada are subjected insufficient clean water despite the country being one of the wealthiest nations with the most-rich water. For most Canadians, access to fresh, sufficient, affordable water is easy. On the contrary, Potlotek, a First Nation community has experienced water challenges for decades. Advisories that alert people when the water is unsafe for drinking are concentrated in indigenous communities. In the First Nations, there are no binding regulations on water quality on the reserves (Human Rights Watch, 2016). The water system in Potlotek is under-funded which includes operation and maintenance cost. There is no support for household water and wastewater systems. Source water conditions worsen every day considering the lack of support and capacity for water operators. The government neglects the First Nations such as Potlotek which makes the people vulnerable to health problems. Contaminants in drinking water reserves are naturally occurring and mostly, they are as a result of poor wastewater management off and on reserves. There are organic materials in dirty source water which react with treatment chemicals hence resulting in the formation of toxins. Exposure to the contaminants has health impacts such as increased risk of contracting cancer. Hygiene is primary when it comes to health. Because of the water conditions in the area, most people change their sanitation habits which affect them (Human Rights Watch, 2016). For decades the federal government denied the indigenous communities equal rights as other people in the country. Being one of the nation with most clean water, all the residents should enjoy similar privileges. The social environment that Chapel Island First Nation is subjected to shows the inequitable distribution of resources. The people are not treated equally as the non-indigenous communities with exclusive access to clean water. The government has failed to remedy the water crisis for decades due to social discrimination which has resulted in water-related health problems.

Social Status among individuals in a society is essential for it involves available income and living conditions(Ahnquist, Wamala, & Lindstrom, 2012). The non-indigenous people have a higher income than the indigenous people. Income determines the living conditions of the people and access to good health care (Sawchuk, 2017). Due to the low income among most of the Potlotek people, they are unable to access proper water facilities. Several people can buy bottled water or pay for other clean water services. However, the poor end up using the available tap water which results in health problems. The inequality problems among the Canadians have led to poor living conditions of the First Nation communities. The water systems in the houses are deteriorating, and they do have enough resources to repair them. The governments promise for restoring the water conditions have lasted for decades which made the residents go to the streets to demonstrate against the water conditions. Just seven miles away from the Potlotek community, there is a non-indigenous community that has access to adequate clean water. The closeness to of the two communities and the difference in water conditions shows there is a gap between the social status of the First Nation communities and non-indigenous communities. If there were indeed water problems in Canada most of the people would experience the challenges but not just several communities. The people end up being exposed to toxins in the water because they cannot afford clean water. Social status, therefore, contributed to the degradation of water services in the Potlotek event which result in health problems. Some people cannot afford to pay for the health services due to low income hence their conditions deteriorate. The federal government has contributed to the poor living conditions of the indigenous people by favoring the non-indigenous people and providing them with better-paying jobs and good facilities which allow them to acquire high social standards. Dee

The three social determinants in the Potlotek media event can be addressed through various methods. For example, nurses can put in place potential health promotion strategies which they might implement to address physical environment, social environment, and social status. Health promotion enables people to increase control over activities that can improve their health. The activities involved do not focus on individual behavior alone but as well as environmental and physical actions(Maville & Huerta, 2012). Nurses know the factors of poor water conditions that could result in health complications. Therefore, their involvement in health promotion strategies regarding the event can help address the social determinants identified. Bases, where health promotion can be practiced, include public amenities, workplace, and residential areas.

Nurses can engage in strengthening community actions by educating the people on the effects of dirty water and encourage them to protest against its contamination. When people are aware of the contaminants in water and their impact, they would be encouraged to oppose despite being told the water is safe for drinking. When the government is aware that the people know the effects of water, it will take steps to ensure permanent solutions to counter the problems in the community (Evans, Pattanayak, Young, Buszin, Rai, & Bihm, 2014). Strengthening the community by educating them on the causes of water contamination addresses the physical environment determinant. Nurses can also join hands to come up with ideas that build healthy public policy. For example, they can come up with a health report that addresses the effects of high concentration of manganese and iron in the water. The report can then be forwarded to the human rights commission discussing why they should intervene in the Canadian government to offer equal services to all the communities in Canada. The nurses can include the social effects that the community is subjected to so that the government can be pressured to implement equitable distribution of resources which will provide a favorable social environment. A public health nurse can also address the social status by advocating for a hospital which is affordable to the poor Potlotek residents. Such a hospital can help in treating patients who cannot afford to pay hospital bills. Some of the people in the indigenous communities are subjected to severe living conditions due to inadequate income which cannot cater for their health services. While advocating for such a hospital, the nurse should pressure the federal government into dealing with the water problems that cause health complications. Nurses view health promotions as a primary focus in their practice. Community and public health nurses promote wellness to eliminate avoidable diseases.

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