I'm pleased to present to your committee key priorities for Canadians affected by MS. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. An estimated one in every 385 Canadians live with the disease. It's a chronic, episodic, progressive and often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Since that includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve, MS can affect vision, memory, balance and mobility. On average, 11 Canadians are diagnosed with MS every day.
The MS Society has heard the personal and profound stories of life with MS from Canadians, the struggles in the workplace, the financial difficulties families are facing to make ends meet, the frustrating barriers in accessing Health Canada-approved therapies, appropriate care, housing and social supports, and of course, the hope that research gives to the tens of thousands of Canadians living with this disease.
To address these realities, I'll present our recommendations on employment and income security, access and accelerating research.
First is employment security. People with MS want to work but struggle to continue to work. We need to update the definition of disability to include episodic. A staggering 60% are unemployed and that needs to change. Often the problem is one of flexibility and accommodation, and an understanding of episodic disability.
Last year, the HUMA committee studied Motion No. 192, episodic disabilities. Its report, “Taking Action: Improving the Lives of Canadians with Episodic Disabilities”, made 11 important recommendations that now need to be implemented, including extending the duration of the EI sickness benefit from 15 to 26 weeks.
The second area of priority is income security. The costs of paying for medication, services, equipment and treatment are a significant burden for people with MS and their families. Intertwined with this burden are complicated application processes, requirements for numerous verified medical forms and strict eligibility criteria for programs. When MS stops people from working, they should be able to access adequate income and disability support. This situation is amplified for women. In Canada, MS affects women three times as often as men.
We recommend the following. First, make the disability tax credit refundable. Second, implement the 11 recommendations in the HUMA committee's Motion No. 192 report. Third, change the eligibility criteria for the Canada pension plan and disability tax credit to include those with episodic disabilities, using the new Accessible Canada Act's definition of disability.
The third area of priority is access. Access to comprehensive treatment, care and appropriate housing is a must. We recommend the following to make access a reality for Canadians. First, implement the Accessible Canada Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, with a specific focus on programs and service delivery, employment, built environment and transportation. Second, we recommend, through intergovernmental health agreements, investing in comprehensive home care, and for those unable to remain at home, funding the development of appropriate housing through the national housing strategy. Third, we recommend increasing access to Health Canada-approved treatments, as early intervention is vital to avoid many of the long-term economic and personal costs that result from unnecessary, irreversible disability. The needs of people with MS and their families should be at the centre of health and drug policy decisions.
The fourth and final priority area is accelerating research. Research is key to new treatments, better quality of life, and ultimately, a cure. Canada remains at the forefront of MS research around the world. Through generous contributions from donors, corporate sponsors and fervent fundraisers, the MS Society has invested over $175 million in research since its inception in 1948.
The MS Society continues to fund fundamental research, as we still don't know what causes MS or how we could prevent it in the future. First, we recommend the federal government continue to invest in basic scientific research. Second, we recommend that the federal government connect with health charities to ensure the patient voice is part of setting research priorities. We believe that federal research funding programs should be informed by the perspectives of patients, their caregivers and health care providers. Finally, our third recommendation is to partner with health charities to turn innovative research into real-life treatments.
There are a number of partnership opportunities within the impact goals of our own new strategic plan: advance treatment and care, enhance well-being, understand and halt disease progression and prevent MS. For example, the Canadian prospective cohort study to understand progression in MS, otherwise known as CanProCo, is an innovative public, private and philanthropic partnership that will allow researchers and clinicians to observe a large group of people living with MS from across Canada over a period of time, and collect data from them. Analyzing this data will answer fundamental questions as to why and how progression occurs, which is key to improving diagnosis, treatment, health services and health outcomes.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak and share with you the priorities that Canadians affected by MS want you to take action on: employment, income, access and research.