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Two teenagers walk along a dusty road on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation reserve in rural Saskatchewan Sep 6, 2013. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Two teenagers walk along a dusty road on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation reserve in rural Saskatchewan Sep 6, 2013. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto doctor gives $10-million for First Nations health care Add to ...

A Toronto doctor who received money from the sale of his father’s generic drug company has given $10-million toward improving the health of Canada’s indigenous people.

The University of Toronto announced on Friday, National Aboriginal Day, that Michael Dan and his wife, Amira, made the donation to its Dalla Lana School of Public Health to create an institute that will study the health issues among the country’s aboriginal population.

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“This is the single most important issue facing my generation, and if people like me don’t do something about it, then I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night,” Dr. Dan said in a telephone call from Bosnia, where he was visiting his in-laws.

“The opportunity to do something about it is here,” he said. “The university is ready to tackle something like this.”

Dr. Dan, a former neurosurgeon, shared in the proceeds of the sale of Novopharm Ltd., a generic drug company founded by his father, Leslie. He used $17-million to create the Paloma Foundation in 2002, and has given millions to charities around Toronto.

The institute created by the Dans will operate with the input of indigenous people and will bring together scholars in public health, medicine, nursing, social work, education, law, anthropology and many other disciplines. It will tackle a complex and difficult issue.

The life expectancy of First Nations people is five to seven years shorter than that of the general population. Among the Inuit, it is 15 years shorter. Indigenous newborns have a mortality rate that is 1.5 times that of babies in the rest of Canada, and they have more birth defects.

People living on reserves are 31 times more likely than other Canadians to contract tuberculosis. They are three to five times as likely to develop diabetes. They bear a disproportionate risk of traumatic injury. And their rates of infectious disease and suicide are significantly higher.

“If you look at it in totality, it’s completely overwhelming,” Dr. Dan said. “But I think it’s possible, working on a community-by-community basis, to just make a little dent in some of these big issues. You’ll never achieve anything unless you sit down with a community and ask, ‘What are your health problems, how can we help you?’”

The University of Toronto will host Canada’s first indigenous health conference later this year.

Among Dr. Dan’s other philanthropic ventures was the creation in 2006 of Gemini Power, a hydroelectric corporation that finances the construction of power stations that are turned over to First Nations to operate.

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