There are 90,000 Canadians living with multiple sclerosis (MS) — an often-debilitating disease that can affect vision, mobility, fatigue, memory, and more. It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate — it can affect anyone at any time, often in the prime of their lives. So why do we still see health inequities and systemic discrimination within the health care system when it comes to chronic diseases like MS?
“For years I was told that this was likely coming from my European ancestry and not my Métis ancestry,” says Rheanna Robinson, who was diagnosed with MS in 1997 at 19 years old. “It felt like MS was being categorized as a white person’s disease and it was unusual that I was living with it.”
As a Métis woman from Smithers, BC, she knew this wasn’t the case. But with a lack of research and resources representing diverse communities across the country, a comprehensive perspective about the impact of MS on different populations isn’t necessarily well-understood. This has a trickle-down effect on access to research and MS-related health services.
As part of the MS Society of Canada’s work, the organization looks to help fund research into the cause of MS, working toward a world free of MS — for all Canadians. Recent studies examined risk factors for MS in immigrants within Canada. These studies looked at MS incidence, mortality rates, and access to health services to understand differences in immigrant populations as compared to long-term residents. But there’s more work to be done.
“I see gaps in opportunities for Indigenous people, for example, to share their experiences. Modifying inclusion in the research landscape is a good first step,” says Robinson. “The MS Society and the critical work it supports have had a profoundly positive influence on my life. Although my disability continues to drastically accumulate, I believe in science and together, I know there is much to accomplish toward a cure.”