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Category "British Columbia"

24Feb

COVID-19: Here are all the B.C. cases of the novel coronavirus

by admin


As of Feb. 24, B.C. health officials had announced seven cases, only one of which has recovered so far.


THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Health officials are currently tracking COVID-19, which has made its way to B.C.

The novel coronavirus is transmitted through large liquid droplets such as when a person coughs or sneezes and can enter your system through the eyes, nose or throat if you’re in close contact with an infected individual.

Symptoms include a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Those who think they’re infected should call a health-care professional before visiting a doctor’s office.

Here’s an updated list of cases confirmed in B.C.


RECOVERED — Case 1: Man, 40s, Vancouver resident

B.C.’s first COVID-19 patient was a man in his 40s. Officials said the man was first confirmed to have the novel coronavirus on Jan. 27, 2020. He had travelled to Wuhan and was put into isolation for recovery upon diagnosis here in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

On Feb. 19, 2020, officials confirmed the man had been cleared of the virus after testing negative in two tests set 24 hours apart.

First coronavirus case in B.C. confirmed
One coronavirus patient in B.C. has recovered, no new cases
Official health authorities’ statement on first case

Case 2: Woman, 50s, Vancouver resident

The second B.C. case of COVID-19 was announced Feb. 3 in a woman in her 50s who lives in the Vancouver area. Officials believe the woman contracted coronavirus from two relatives who had been visiting her from the Wuhan area.

Second case of coronavirus reported in Metro Vancouver area
Official health authorities’ statement on second case

Cases 3 and 4: Man and woman, both in their 30s, visitors from Hubei province

The third and fourth cases of COVID-19 were reported Feb. 6 in a man and a woman in their 30s, both visiting from the Hubei province in China. The pair was visiting a Vancouver-based relative, who had earlier been announced as B.C.’s second case of COVID-19.

All three individuals in the household were placed on quarantine at home for recovery.

Third and fourth cases of presumptive coronavirus reported in Metro
Official health authorities’ statement on third and fourth cases

Case 5: Woman, 30s, B.C. Interior resident

The fifth case was announced Feb. 14 and was found in a woman in her 30s who had recently returned from Shanghai. The woman, who lives in B.C.’s Interior, remained in isolation at home while recovering.

Fifth case of coronavirus reported in B.C.
Official health authorities’ statement on fifth case

Case 6: Woman, 30s, Fraser Valley resident

B.C.’s sixth case of COVID-19 was announced Feb. 20 in a woman in her 30s who lives in the Fraser Health region. The woman had recently returned from a trip to Iran, where concerns are high over transmission after a sudden rash of cases in that country.

A number of close contacts of the woman were identified by health officials, including those on-board her flight to Vancouver, and were being monitored for symptoms.

B.C. woman diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning from Iran
Official health authorities’ statement on sixth case

Case 7: Man, 40s, Fraser Valley resident

The province’s seventh case of COVID-19 was announced Feb. 24 in a man in his 40s. Officials say the man had been in contact with the woman in B.C.’s sixth case, though the man’s symptoms began before the woman had been officially diagnosed.

The man’s close contacts have been identified and officials are monitoring them for symptoms.

B.C. heath officials say seventh case of COVID-19 confirmed
Official health authorities’ statement on seventh case

More to come …

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‘Working in a pressure cooker’: Violence against B.C. nurses linked to heavy workload

by admin


In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.


The heavy workload faced by B.C. nurses put them at higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their patients, according to new research from the University of B.C.

The study, published in the journal Nursing Open and funded by the B.C. Nurses Union, “validates” anecdotal evidence from nurses on the front lines of the health care system, BCNU president Christine Sorensen said Thursday.

“Nurses are working in a pressure cooker,” she said. “That pressure in the system transfers to patients … which can sometimes lead them to take it out on the first person who helps them.”

According to the union, 26 nurses each month suffer a violent injury at work, accounting for 31 per cent of all injuries from acts of violence in B.C.

Nurses report being verbally assaulted, which includes yelling, swearing and racial slurs, as well as physical abuse, which ranges from throwing food or bed pans to sexual and physical assault.

In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.

The UBC study found complaints from patients or their families are sometimes a precursor to emotional or physical violence.

Complaints can be part of the “spiral of aggression” that eventually leads to violence, said study author Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.


‘We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,’ says Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.

Handout

The complaints often stem from workload issues, which affect the quality of patient care. The study looked at several factors to determine workload, including common measures such as staffing and patient load, as well as the number of interruptions, number of admissions and how sick or how much assistance patients required.

“The evidence shows that when nurses are overworked, they get more complaints. If they don’t have time to deal with the complaints, the situation can escalate,” said Havaei.

Nurses said they received an average of one complaint per month and experienced emotional or physical abuse from patients or their families at about the same frequency.

“We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,” said Havaei, adding that a system to better track patient complaints would only be a “bandaid approach” to preventing violence.

Sorensen called on the provincial government to provide additional nurses to provide better patient care and help with workload, as well as protection safety officers to ensure safety.

In December, the provincial government announced a new agency to tackle workplace safety for health care workers, earmarking $8.5 million over the next three years.

The province’s health-sector bargaining associations, health employers and the provincial government will lead the new non-profit organization, which was born out of a working group of the same stakeholders.

In 2018, injury claim costs from health care workers totalled more than $107 million, an increase of about $11 million from the previous year, according to the province. It is expected the new agency will be operational by late spring.

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18Feb

Most parents believe kids will leave Metro Vancouver due to cost: poll

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More and more B.C. parents believe their children will have to leave Metro Vancouver one day due to the high cost of living.


Getty Images

More and more B.C. parents believe their children will have to leave Metro Vancouver one day due to the high cost of living.

According to a new Research Co. poll, 66 per cent of B.C. parents who participated in the survey said they expected their child or children would have to move away in the future due to the financial constraints of living in Metro Vancouver. That percentage is up 24 points to a similar poll conducted in 2019.

The newly released poll also found that the majority of B.C. parents struggle with stress due to work and finances, with 58 per cent of respondents saying they experienced work-related stress “frequently” or “occasionally” and 57 per cent saying they experienced finance-related stress “frequently” or “occasionally.”

Still half of parents (51 per cent) say they deal with housing-related stress, while 40 per cent say it is “moderately difficult” or “very difficult” to make ends meet.

Financial stress appears to affect more parents in Northern B.C., with 60 per cent saying they have a hard time getting by financially. Meanwhile, 45 per cent on Vancouver Island, 40 per cent in the Fraser Valley, 39 per cent in Metro Vancouver and 28 per cent in Southern B.C. put themselves in that same category.

The survey also found that three-in-five parents say it is “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to put away savings, while two-in-five parents struggle with paying for day-to-day expenses (44 per cent), paying for childcare (42 per cent) and paying for transportation (39 per cent).

The survey was conducted online from Feb. 4 to 7, 2020 among a representative group of 623 B.C. parents between the ages of 0 to 18 years. The margin of error is +/-3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

13Feb

Virtual walk-in clinics increase access to doctors in rural B.C. communities

by admin


Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.


Submitted photo / PNG

For weeks, Candace Marynuik hadn’t felt like herself.

She might have told a doctor about her “weird symptoms,” but since moving to Fort St. John in 2017 she had been forced to rely on the local walk-in clinic, lining up in sub-zero weather before sunrise to be turned away when every space was filled.

“I hadn’t seen a doctor in over two years,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.”

In September, a friend suggested an app she had used to get a prescription refilled.

Within hours, Marynuik had a virtual appointment with a B.C. doctor, and within a week she had done blood tests and an X-ray. She even had a suspected diagnosis — multiple sclerosis. She would need an MRI and a visit to the University of B.C.’s MS clinic in Vancouver to confirm the diagnosis, but doctors she had never met in person connected her with the right specialists.

“I don’t know how long I would have waited (to go to the hospital in Fort St. John),” she said. “By the time I got on the plane to Vancouver, my brain was in a fog.”


Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.

Submitted photo /

PNG

The Babylon app by Telus Health was launched in B.C. in March, at that time the only province in Canada with a billing code to pay doctors for virtual visits.

While Telus was reluctant to provide Postmedia News with information on the number of British Columbians who have used the free app so far, the telecommunications company said “tens of thousands” of people have downloaded Babylon and completed consultations. January saw the highest downloads to date, with a 30 per cent increase over December.

“The growth has been significant,” said Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Telus Consumer Health. “Some of the stories people have told us bring tears to my eyes. It’s been used by a 97-year-old who had trouble seeing a doctor because of mobility issues, someone who said the app saved their family’s Christmas (and) people in rural areas who have to drive hours to see a doctor.”

Sihota said the number of doctors registered with the app is growing, with many drawn to the system by the work-life balance it provides. Some work part-time in clinics or their own practices and take calls through Babylon on the side. Like a physical walk-in clinic, the doctors bill MSP for the consultations.

Sihota said “connected care” is at the heart of the Babylon app. While patients receive access to the doctor’s written notes, they can also play back a video of their consultation. The virtual clinic also helps them arrange the necessary tests and followup appointments.

In a short survey conducted for Telus after each appointment, 92 per cent of respondents said their main request was resolved by the end of their consultation. Asked to rate the service, they gave it an average 4.9 out of five stars, a number that hasn’t dropped since March.

The top conditions treated by doctors through the app include mental health, sexual health, skin disorders and respiratory issues. So far, more women have used it than men.

“We should all have equal access to health care,” said Sihota. “We believe technology can make our health-care system better at less cost.”


The Babylon app by Telus Health connects B.C. residents with doctors.

PNG

Babylon isn’t the only example of virtual health care in B.C.

The primary health-care strategy announced by the provincial government in 2018 included an emphasis on technology solutions. At a news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said technology would be used to bring health care closer to home for those in rural and remote areas through the use of telehealth services and new digital home-health monitoring.

B.C. Children’s Hospital uses technology to link specialists to doctors and patients throughout the province through 19 telehealth centres, conducting about 140 virtual appointments per month. Specialists also provide advice to adult patients through a program called Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise.

The government paid nearly $3 million for about 43,000 video-conference visits to doctors in 2015-16. The number of virtual visits rose to over one million in 2016-17.

Telus Health has recently made a push into the health-care field, buying a chain of elite medical clinics and reportedly spending over $2 billion on a variety of digital-health tools.

Some doctors have questioned whether virtual health care erodes quality of care by eliminating long-term doctor patient relationships in favour of episodic care, while also making it more attractive for doctors to work for a virtual clinic, making it even harder to see a doctor in person.

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—With files from Postmedia News

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9Feb

‘Back at square one:’ B.C. Crohn’s patient struggles with forced transition to biosimilar medication

by admin

For 10 years, Debbie Aschwanden managed the symptoms of Crohn’s disease with a drug called Remicade.

When the provincial government announced it would no longer fund the drug through Pharmacare, she and about 1,700 patients with inflammatory bowel disease were told to switch to a less-expensive copycat drug before March 5.

For two months after she switched, the Williams Lake insurance broker struggled with “horrible” symptoms that felt like a Crohn’s flare-up or a bad flu.

“I was super sick,” said Aschwanden, who has a 13-year-old son. “I had to miss a few days of work even though I tried to push through.”

She switched to Inflectra first, one of the two biosimilar drugs indicated by the government to replace Remicade. After two infusions, her doctor switched her to another biosimilar called Renflexis, hoping for a better result. So far, she hasn’t had the same symptoms, but she isn’t feeling as healthy as she did while on the original biologic drug.

“After I was diagnosed (with Crohn’s), I was so thankful to find something that helped,” she said. “To have that ripped from under me was really tough. It was like I was back at square one.”

Crohn’s patients were part of a second group of British Columbians who were required to transition their prescriptions to a biosimilar equivalent beginning last year.

In September, the government announced gastroenterology patients across B.C. would have six months to switch their prescription from Remicade to Inflectra or Renflexis.

The news followed a similar announcement in May, when B.C. became the first Canadian province to stop funding three injectable drugs, including Lantus, Ebrel and Remicade, for non-gastroenterology patients. An estimated 20,000 patients were given until Nov. 25 to switch to biosimilar drugs for diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis and several other chronic conditions.

Coverage for the original drugs would only be provided in exceptional cases, decided on a case-by-case basis.


Debbie Aschwanden with her husband Sepp and son Josef.

Submitted photo /

PNG

Biosimilars are similar to generic drugs in that they are manufactured after the 20-year patent expires on the original biologics. But they cost 25 to 50 per cent less than the original.

According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, the province spent $125 million on the three biologic drugs affected by the policy change in 2018, including $84.2 million on Remicade. Since Remicade was approved for sale by the federal government in 2001, the province has spent more than $671 million.

“We know that the use of biosimilars in other countries has worked extremely well in ensuring people get the medication they need, and it’s time we caught up,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a news conference in September. “By using biosimilars in B.C., we will be putting about $96.6 million back into health care over the next three years.”

But critics said the financial gains don’t offset the hardship experienced by patients who are sensitive to prescription changes.

“We’ve heard of dozens and dozens of challenges experienced by people in B.C.,” said Mina Mawani, president and CEO of Crohn’s & Colitis Canada.

She said the charity is aware of 140 Crohn’s patients who have applied for an exemption to receive coverage for Remicade, but only two have been approved. Among those denied was a person with Stage 4 cancer who also has Crohn’s disease and someone with a complex history of anxiety. Several nursing mothers are waiting to hear if their exemption requests will be approved.


Mina Mawani.

jpg

“I feel disheartened,” said Mawani. “We’ve been told that patients are simply being emotional about switching. But we know they’re not emotional. This is their life.”

She said Crohn’s & Colitis Canada believes biosimilars are a safe and effective treatment for people with inflammatory bowel disease, but patients and doctors should have a choice.

“The issue is not about starting new patients on the biosimilar drugs. It’s about the government forcing people who are stable to make the switch. What does that do to their health, including their mental health?”

Mawani said the government isn’t able to answer that question because it is not adequately tracking the impact of the switch on individual patients.

The Ministry of Health was unable to provide answers to questions about outcomes for people with Crohn’s disease or the number exceptional requests it has received. Material on its website says B.C. spent nine years studying biosimilars before announcing the switch, consulting with a wide variety of physician and patient groups, as well as regional health authorities and Health Canada.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Health shows that as of Dec. 31, 55 per cent of B.C. patients on Lantus had switched to a biosimilar, while 78 per cent on Enbrel and 73 per cent on Remicade for non-gastrointestinal issues had switched, for a total of 11,930 patients.

Gastroenterology patients were given until March 5 to transition from Remicade to Inflectra or Renflexis. As of Dec. 31, 28 per cent, or 529 people out of 1,858, had switched.

Not everyone is upset about biosimilars, with many B.C. doctors and scientists in favour of them. As a result of thesavings, diabetics now receive coverage for an additional drug, Jardiance, which doctors had long advocated.

***OPTIONAL CUT FOR PRINT***

Dix said he made the switch to a 15 per cent cheaper biosimilar to treat his Type 1 diabetes and there were no negative effects.

B.C. Diabetes’s medical director, Dr. Tom Elliott, also characterized the switch as a “non-event” for diabetics, calling the transition “seamless.”

“The big story for me is what the government is going to do with the money saved. It’s led to the approval of another drug, which is a great thing. What else will they do?”

Health Canada has also said it has no concerns about the B.C. policy and there are no differences expected between the categories of drugs when it comes to safety and effectiveness.

Since B.C. made the switch to biologic drugs, Manitoba and Alberta have followed suit, with Ontario considering the change as well. In Alberta, where patients have until July to transition, the Opposition NDP is urging the government to reconsider and Crohn’s patients rallied outside the legislature in December.

***END OPTIONAL CUT FOR PRINT***

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With Postmedia files

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28Jan

Five things to know about coronavirus in B.C.

by admin

While the World Health Organization has not declared the coronavirus an outbreak on an international scale, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been closely monitoring for possible cases closer to home.

On Tuesday, officials announced the first case of coronavirus was presumed in B.C. Test results expected back by Thursday will confirm whether the individual has coronavirus.

Here are five things to know about the virus.


What is coronavirus?

The new coronavirus, named 2019-nCOV, is a respiratory infection. There are many types of coronavirus, some linked to the common cold, but this one is new.

It is similar to other respiratory illnesses and symptoms include a fever, dry cough, sore throat and headache. While most cases are mild, some individuals may experience more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, and may experience pneumonia in both lungs. It may take up to 14 days after exposure for symptoms appear.

The illness was first detected in December in a group of people in Wuhan City, located in the Hubei province of central China, following exposure to live animals at the Huanan Seafood Market; the market has been closed since Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection.

Recent cases, however, have surfaced without exposure to animals or markets, suggesting that the virus can spread between people though it remains unknown how easily this happens.

The virus has been labelled the Wuhan coronavirus to reflect the location in central China where it was first identified.


Staff members (in black) check the body temperature of passengers after a train from Wuhan arrived at Hangzhou Railway Station in Hangzhou, China’s eastern Zhejiang province.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

How far has it spread in Canada and B.C.?

The first case of coronavirus has been presumed in British Columbia, according to B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry said Tuesday that the patient, a B.C. man In his 40s, arrived in Vancouver last week after travelling to Wuhan, China. He started experiencing symptoms 24 hours later. Henry says the man is not in hospital but is being kept isolated at home and no members of his family have shown any symptoms as they are being monitored by health officials.

The province expects to have test results from the man’s case back from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg within 48 hours. If confirmed, it would be the first case of coronavirus in B.C.

Elsewhere in Canada, a man in Toronto was reported as the first case of novel coronavirus, while his wife is presumed to be the second. A man in Seattle has also been confirmed to have coronavirus, after he started experiencing flu-like symptoms.

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of a new form of coronavirus, with at least 106 deaths. It has also been reported in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.

As of Jan. 28, the World Health Organization reported:
• 4,593 cases confirmed around the world
• 4,537 of those cases were in regions of China (including Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan)
• 56 cases confirmed in 14 other countries outside of China
• 106 deaths, all located in regions of China


Jan. 28, 2020 report on coronavirus cases, courtesy of the World Health Organization.

Are there precautions I can take against coronavirus?

Health officials say special precautions are not necessary other than the usual steps taken during a regular flu or winter season.

Regular handwashing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow sleeve instead of your hands, disposing of tissues properly, and avoiding contact with people who are sick are adequate steps to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, say health officials.

While some have opted to wear surgical or face masks during this time, experts say the masks are not entirely effective or necessary for the average person going about their daily lives.

Surgical face masks do not provide a tight seal around the face so while it does protect from respiratory droplets from a sneeze or a cough, the coronavirus is still present in airborne droplets that can get around a surgical mask.

A N95 mask, which features a structured cup shape, does provide a secure seal if worn properly and filters more particles; however, the current level of risk is still low enough that unless you’re a medical professional, a N95 mask isn’t needed.


A man wears a masks as a precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak as people arrive from the International terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Saturday, January 25, 2020. Canadian health officials announced a first presumed case in Ontario.

Nathan Denette /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

What should I do if I’ve been travelling or will be travelling soon to an affected region?

If you’ve recently travelled and become ill either during or after your return, notify your health care provider, local public health office or call 811. It’s best to call for information and advice before heading to your local doctor’s office or emergency room.

If you have plans to travel to any affected regions and no longer feel comfortable doing so, check with your airline or travel specialist to see if it’s possible to cancel or reschedule your trip. China Eastern is among the airlines that are now offering refunds or exchanges for eligible flight itineraries, free of charge, while United was the first U.S. airline to cancel some flights to China.

Travellers who go ahead with their plans are reminded to wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with live animals at farms and markets, avoid eating raw animals or meat, and avoid surfaces with animal secretions such as blood and droppings.

The Canadian government is encouraging Canadians to avoid all travel to the Hubei province where the virus was first detected.

How are other countries or health authorities dealing with coronavirus?

As a result of fears around coronavirus, some cities around the world cancelled or banned large gatherings during the recent Lunar New Year weekend to prevent the virus from spreading.

Both the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort were both shut indefinitely in recent days to prevent spread, along with Hong Kong’s Ocean Park amusement park. The 2020 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon was also cancelled.

The U.S. State Department had coordinated an evacuation flight to ferry American consulate staff, their families and a small number of private citizens out of Wuhan and over to California on Tuesday. Japan had also sent a first plane to Wuhan to evacuate its nationals, after the Chinese city was locked down following the outbreak.

Closer to home, the Live in Langley Chinese Association cancelled a gala this weekend that was sponsored by the Township of Langley. Vancouver’s Chinatown celebrations, however, went on as planned.

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15Jan

Adrienne Montani: Minimum-wage work shouldn’t be a ticket to poverty for B.C. families

by admin

Holly is a single mother of two, Ezra, 13, and Emily, 17. Emily is a complex kid with multiple health and developmental challenges, including Down Syndrome. Emily is reliant on a feeding tube and since she was born Holly has been her round-the-clock caregiver. Unable to return to work, Holly relies on social assistance.

Emily needs special medical equipment, a variety of therapies and must travel monthly to B.C. Children’s Hospital from the family’s home in Nanaimo. While they have been fortunate to receive support from charities to cover some costs, living on social assistance means this family lives in deep poverty.

Holly’s situation is not unique. First Call has been tracking child and family poverty rates in B.C. for over two decades and our 23rd annual Child Poverty Report Card, released this week, still shows one in five B.C. children lived in poverty in 2017. That means 163,730 children and youth were living in poor households, including 51,760 children under the age of six.

Overall, B.C. had the eighth highest child poverty rate of all the provinces and territories. At just over 19 per cent, B.C.’s child poverty rate was slightly higher than the national child poverty rate of 18.5 per cent.

For the first time since 2009, the number of poor children in lone-parent families increased, from 81,960 in 2016 to 86,690 in 2017. This is the first time we have seen children in lone-parent families make up more than half of B.C.’s poor children.

The gender inequality gap persisted with the median income for female lone-parent households at $44,960 and the median income for male lone-parent households at $62,550.

Many of the regional districts with the highest child poverty rates were located in coastal areas, particularly along the north and central coastal areas. Indigenous children, new immigrant children, children in visible or racialized minority groups and those with disabilities all have much higher poverty rates than the B.C. average.


Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator at First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

In 2017, a single parent with one child living on social assistance survived on only $19,795 per year, 40 per cent below the poverty line. Unfortunately, the average number of children living in households on social assistance rose by 1,900 between 2016 and 2017. And, like Holly, for most of these families (66 per cent), working is not an option.

However, the story of most family poverty in B.C. is one where one or more parents are working. Many families raising children on minimum-wage jobs, often without benefits, are still far below the poverty line.

Overall, the median after-tax income for a poor lone parent with one child in 2017 was $17,920, more than $12,000 below the poverty line. The median income for poor couple family with two children was $30,540, almost $14,000 below the poverty line.

Over the past few years both federal and provincial governments have taken steps in the right direction, including a more generous Canada Child Benefit and B.C.’s new Child Opportunity Benefit, set to kick in this fall.

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Government has an opportunity here to raise all families (those with working parents and those on social assistance) over the poverty line through the combined income transfer programs currently in place. Better universal public services like affordable housing and child care, along with free or low-cost public transportation access, would also reduce a family’s expenses and improve their quality of life.

In fact, there is recent evidence showing the nominal increase in the CCB resulted in decreased food insecurity for families while making a substantial contribution to Canada’s economy.

So while we’re cautiously optimistic about governments’ plans, the 2017 Child Poverty Report Card shows us there is so much more to be done to ensure all children have what they need to thrive. Having a child with complex needs or working full time at minimum wage or living with a disability should not be a ticket to poverty for B.C.’s families.

Adrienne Montani is provincial co-ordinator at First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

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11Jan

Campaign for free prescription contraception ramps up ahead of B.C. budget

by admin


Holding an IUD birth control copper coil device in hand, used for contraception


flocu / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Free prescription contraception is a no-brainer, according to groups advocating its inclusion in February’s provincial budget.

A cost-benefit analysis conducted by Options for Sexual Health in 2010 estimates the B.C. government could save $95 million a year if it paid for universal access to prescription contraception.

It would also promote equality, giving young people and those with low incomes the same choices as those who are able to pay for their preferred method of contraception.

“Not all contraception works for everyone,” said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, committee chair and co-founder of the AccessBC campaign. “Money shouldn’t be a factor in deciding on the best option.”

The most effective contraception is often the most expensive up front: An intrauterine device, or IUD, can cost between $75 and $380, while oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 a month, and hormone injections can cost as much as $180 a year.

But that’s a small amount compared to an unplanned pregnancy, which can have a “huge ripple effect” on a woman’s life, particularly if she is already struggling to get by, said Patti MacAhonic, executive director of the Ann Davis Transition Society in Chilliwack.

“I think it’s a gender equity issue. Contraception costs usually fall on women, and if they become pregnant that often falls on them as well.”

MacAhonic said providing free prescription contraception would also reduce some of the stigma that still exists around birth control. School-age girls trying to get a prescription without their parents’ knowledge may be prevented by a lack of money.

In May, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position statement identifying cost as a “significant barrier” to using contraception for youth.

“Many must pay out-of-pocket because they have no pharmaceutical insurance, their insurance does not cover the contraceptives they desire, or they wish to obtain contraceptives without their parents’ knowledge,” said the statement.

The society recommended all youth should have confidential access to contraception at no cost until age 25.

But B.C. advocates want the government to go further.

AccessBC pointed to several European countries that subsidize universal access to contraception in some way, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. Many programs are revenue-neutral when the cost of an unintended pregnancy is considered.

In 2015, a study in the Canadian Association Medical Journal estimated the cost of universal contraception in Canada would be $157 million, but the savings, in the form of the direct medical costs of unintended pregnancy, would be $320 million.

Options for Sexual Health executive director Michelle Fortin said that while the birth control pill remains relatively cheap, women might choose another method if the cost was the same.

“If you’re a student you may have to choose between a month of food or an IUD,” she said. “Finances continue to be a barrier.”

Fortin said a petition circulated at Options clinics across the province will be presented to the health minister in advance of the budget.

AccessBC is also urging people to write to their MLAs before February.

“We’re feeling optimistic. We have a lot of momentum,” said Phelps Bondaroff, noting the select standing committee on finance and government services recommended the government explore the issue.

“If it makes the budget, it will do great things. … It’s a win-win, a no-brainer.”

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9Jan

Pest problems grow with Canadian cannabis industry

by admin


Amanda Brown, a biological crop protection specialist with Biobest, sets up a booth at the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo in Vancouver on Jan. 9.


NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Amanda Brown’s job requires a knowledge of both biology and battle strategy.

As a biological crop protection specialist, she sends “armies” of beneficial insects in search of the pests that devour B.C. crops like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers — and now, cannabis.

“It’s a beautiful system,” she said. “It’s a very holistic approach.”

With legal cannabis cultivation still in its early days, scientists are in a fight to learn what kinds of pests and diseases pose a risk to the plants and how to beat them.

“Pests and diseases are on the increase,” said Zamir Punja, a professor in plant biotechnology at Simon Fraser University. “It definitely represents a challenge to the industry.”

As the overall area of cannabis production increases, so do the problems and their chances of spreading. Growers across North America are currently facing a root aphid outbreak that appears to have started in Colorado.

Punja said the appearance of some pests was predictable as Canada moved to a regulated industry. Spider mites, for example, are an issue for growers of almost every crop in B.C.

“It’s certainly not unexpected to see them,” said Brown, who works for Biobest Canada.

But other pests are less common.

“Pests that only target cannabis are more difficult to treat. We’ve had less time to study what works,” she said.

Bugs like cannabis aphids aren’t new, but in the previously illegal industry, growers weren’t limited by regulations.

“If they came upon these tricky pests, they could spray something and nobody would know,” she said.

Health Canada regulations forbid the use of chemical pesticides, including some that have been deemed safe for use in food production, meaning growers must depend on an arsenal of organic and biological products, including beneficial insects.

“It’s not as simple as replacing Chemical X with Bug Y,” said Brown.

The specialist helps growers develop pest-control programs that are tailored to their crops, growing style and pest problems. She believes that in time cannabis production and pest-management strategies will become more standardized across Canada.

Punja, too, is at the forefront of disease-management practices. His focus is on identifying the problem and how it arrived at a specific facility, whether it was through movement of plant material or on a worker’s clothing.

Prevention and management often involve cleanliness, as well as the quarantine of infected plants.

The scientist believes Health Canada may eventually approve more products for pest management, but research is needed to make the case to the federal Health Ministry. The companies that produce chemical pesticides may be reluctant to undertake the research or make the application since many of them are based in the U.S. where cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

A limited number of products approved for cannabis — about 21 non-chemical approaches, compared with almost 100 chemical and non-chemical approaches for tomatoes — means Canadian cannabis growers must be innovative to deal with pests.

“In talking to producers, they seem very keen to try new things,” said Punja. “I don’t see this hindering them.”

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3Jan

B.C. homeowner grants confirmed for 2020

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Most B.C. homeowners can apply for a homeowner grant this year.


Files / PNG

The limit on property value for applying for a B.C. homeowner grant has been lowered.

The B.C. government says 92 per cent of homeowners in the province are eligible for the B.C. Home Owner Grant this year.

Property values must fall under the threshold for a homeowner to be eligible for the full amount of the grant. This year’s threshold is set at $1.525 million, down from $1.65 million last year.

The grant is reduced by $5 for every $1,000 of assessed value above the threshold, meaning eligible homeowners with properties assessed above the threshold receive a partial grant until it is fully phased out.

Some low-income owners, such as seniors or people with disabilities, can also apply for a supplement that replaces any grant amount they lose due to the value of their home being over the threshold.

The homeowner grant amounts are up to $570 for the basic grant, up to $770 if the home is located in a northern or rural area, and up to $845 for homeowners who are 65 years or older, or if they live with a disability or a relative, who has a disability.

There is also a grant of up to $1,045 for homes in northern or rural areas where the homeowner is 65 years or older, or the homeowner is a person with a disability.

The B.C. government reimburses municipalities for the full cost of the grant to ensure local government tax revenues are not affected.

Homeowners can apply for the grant online on the government’s website.

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