Doing more to help those living with arthritis may not be the most top-of-mind in this provincial election, but it should be. Political will is, after all, the only thing that stands in front of the opportunity to demonstrably improve the lives of the approximately 650,000 British Columbians living with chronic arthritic pain. It’s a change that every single one of us can commit to making part of our decision about who to vote for on May 9.
For most people, waking up, getting dressed, and going about their daily activities is done without a passing thought or worry. But for the 1 out of every 6 British Columbians currently living with arthritis, the chronic joint pain and stiffness associated with the condition can make even the simplest of tasks, such as brushing teeth or putting on socks, an agonizing experience. Improving the care and treatment landscape for people living with arthritis deserves much greater political attention in the upcoming provincial election.
Arthritis can strike anyone at anytime, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnic background. While many people associate the disease with old age, the fact is that more than half of British Columbians living with arthritis are under the age of 65. Arthritis is everywhere, and its impacts are a lot more serious and costly to our province than many people realize.
As it stands, inadequate supports and access to treatment options for people living with arthritis are hurting the B.C. economy. A lot has been done, but we need to see more. Currently, 1 in 4 British Columbians living with the disease of working age report not being able to work due to their condition. Many still are frequently forced to change jobs or reduce work hours, negatively impacting their careers and their livelihoods. In British Columbia, and across the country, the impact of arthritis on the economy, in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, is enormous: an estimated $33 billion each year.
In B.C., almost half of people living with arthritis report having pain that prevents them from doing everyday activities. Having the disease also translates into a three times greater likelihood of having mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, and an 80 per cent chance of having other chronic health issues, such as obesity and diabetes.
Despite all this, arthritis is a long way down the list of issues that get mentioned by political leaders during this year’s election campaign trail. While the province is faced with another hot-button issue – the ongoing opioid crisis – political leaders must also give due attention to people living with the disease. As part of that, they must recognize that arthritis patients need better access to effective management strategies for their chronic pain.
This includes improved access to promising new therapies, like biologic drugs. These medications have been instrumental in helping many British Columbians living with rheumatoid arthritis, and should be part of the physician’s toolbox. As no single biologic therapy works for all arthritis patients, a range of choice among these therapies is critical.
Special attention must also be given to First Nations people, where the prevalence of arthritis is five times higher, and to people all across British Columbia living in rural and remote communities. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing the permanent joint destruction associated with arthritis; however, many people living outside of urban areas face difficulties receiving timely diagnosis and care. There is an urgent need for improved access to specialist expertise and local supports, including homecare, to improve mobility and decrease pain for these underserved populations.
During this election campaign, when candidates knock on your door put them on the spot when it comes to arthritis. Ask them where they stand and whether, if elected, they’re willing to commit resources and embrace new policies to ease the pain of those living with the pain of this disease. Arthritis may not be the number one issue on the minds of candidates. But for 1 in 6 voters, it’s the number one issue in their lives.
—Christine Basque, Executive Director of the BC Division of The Arthritis Society