October 17 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This day promotes dialogue and understanding between people living in poverty and their communities, and society at large.

This year’s theme was “Acting together to empower children, their families, and communities to end poverty” and 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The convention recognizes the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

So, how are we doing with regards to poverty in Nova Scotia? According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia has the highest overall poverty rates in the country. And in contrast to all other provinces, our child poverty rates are on the rise, with about one in six Nova Scotian children living in poverty in 2017.

We know poverty significantly impacts health. Research has shown that poverty hurts child development, and in turn, leads to lower-income and poorer health in adulthood. Those living in poverty are more likely to develop illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. They also may die sooner than those with higher incomes.

We also know that certain groups in the population are disproportionately affected by poverty – like people with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized communities, lone-parent families, refugees, and single young people with unstable employment.

Poverty costs all of us. A 2010 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conservatively estimated the cost of poverty in Nova Scotia as $2.2 billion per year. The same report showed that if poverty was eliminated for the 20 per cent of Nova Scotians with the lowest income and assumed the same use of services as the 20 per cent with the next higher income, the savings for the health care system would be $241 million, about 6.7 per cent of Nova Scotia’s health care budget.

Access to family doctors and wait times are important parts of our health care system, and it’s so imperative that these discussions and the work to provide solutions continue. But a strong system does more than treat the ill. Better health starts long before we need medical care. Health happens in our homes, in our communities and in our workplaces. It is shaped by factors such as income, education, social connection and the environment.

We are glad to see a focus on health in Nova Scotia. It is now time to start talking about and taking action toward eradicating poverty as a direct means to improve the health of Nova Scotians.

Dr. Jennifer Cram, Western Zone

Dr. Daniela Kempkens, Eastern Zone

Dr. Claudia Sarbu, Central Zone

Dr. Cindy Shen, Central Zone

Dr. Ryan Sommers, Northern Zone

Nov Scotia’s regional

Medical Officers of Health