Improving Cancer Care for African Nova Scotians

By October 25, 2013Articles, Community, Research

Learning that you or someone close to you has cancer is life-changing, and because culture and life experience defines who we are, it is not surprising that our needs within the formal health system will vary accordingly.

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Twelve years ago Cancer Care Nova Scotia (CCNS) believed there was a gap in how the cancer system responded to the needs of diverse communities. Beginning with the African Nova Scotian (ANS) community, CCNS commissioned two ANS consultants to conduct a needs assessment.

Recommendations in the 2001 needs assessment included: developing culturally-specific patient education materials; enhancing cultural competency of health professionals; and recruiting health professionals from ANS communities.

With this increased knowledge, CCNS worked with health professionals and administrators throughout the province to address these recommendations. In 2012, CCNS conducted a series of focus groups in five ANS communities (Yarmouth, Tracadie, Whitney Pier, North and East Preston and metro Halifax) to find out if the organization’s efforts had resulted in an improved experience for African Nova Scotians.

Although the African Nova Scotian experience with the cancer system has greatly improved, the work is not yet complete, as some African Nova Scotians continue to:
• experience systemic racism, particularly within primary health care settings;
• encounter delays in accessing cancer specialist services;
• hold misconceptions regarding cancer and its treatment;
• face challenges in communicating with health professionals;
• struggle in making informed decisions about their care; and
• face barriers with respect to transportation, medication costs, other financial issues and geographic isolation.

One focus group participant commented, “… They (health professionals) don’t recognize the cultural differences. And so you almost feel like they’re never going to understand, (that) they won’t understand our responses, they won’t understand how it affects us…”

Another participant said, “When I was diagnosed, it would be nice to see an African Nova Scotian face there [among health professionals]. You don’t see them.”

CCNS appreciates the contribution of all who took time to share their experience through focus groups. Their contribution provides CCNS and others with information that will help us re-focus our efforts as we continue our work to improve the African Nova Scotian experience with the province’s cancer system. Over the coming months, CCNS will also be meeting with a variety of stakeholders to explore how to address the broader health system and research issues raised in this report.

For the full story and more information read the full report here: Cancer Care ANS Report April 2013 Final.