JointHealth™ express   December 20, 2023

Winter Solstice message from Arthritis Consumer Experts

As we gather to celebrate over the Winter Solstice, it offers us a chance to reflect and renew. I have been particularly struck by how the Winter Solstice is a special time in Indigenous cultures, symbolizing the turning of seasons and a period for recharging our spirits, connecting with our communities, and fostering change both within and around us. It's a time to assess our aspirations, to dream, and to plan how to make those dreams a reality. Whether these intentions are personal, physical, spiritual, relational, or professional, they hold the potential to shape our future.

In the spirit of the Winter Solstice, Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) would like to take this opportunity to pause and share our journey through 2023 and our intentions for the coming year.

This past year – our 23rd of continuous operation, every day, all day – we adapted and evolved to meet the shifting needs of those we serve; people with arthritis from coast-to-coast, in English and French and with an urgency that is ACE’s hallmark organizational “personality trait.” As the lived experience of people with arthritis changed, we responded by reshaping our educational platforms and advocacy strategies to align with their needs.

In 2023, ACE’s efforts were guided by insights from you. This past year you told us through our National Surveys about how your arthritis affects your mental health. You educated us on your health literacy awareness and needs. You expressed your desire to be able to continue to exercise as a key part of your self-care routine. These Surveys shone light on the complex relationship between inflammatory arthritis and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, underlining how these illnesses make arthritis symptoms worse and lead to poorer health outcomes. The Surveys also spotlighted the urgent need for updated information on arthritis research, particularly in medication advances and how these therapies are prescribed. Furthermore, they sharply brought into focus the elements of systemic racism within the arthritis patient journey, revealing how cultural, racial, and gender disparities significantly impact the care received by individuals in underserved communities.

In response to these findings, ACE took decisive steps to address these profound health inequities and mental health needs. We developed and implemented educational programs that cater to diverse patient audiences, reflecting various ages, genders, identities, races and ethnicities, incomes, and geographical locations across Canada. Our goal has been to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for all those affected by arthritis.

Our advocacy efforts in 2023 further cemented ACE's reputation as a trusted and influential voice within both Canadian and global arthritis communities. We provided leadership and guidance in addressing a broad spectrum of public policy challenges. These include navigating the transfer of arthritis care in the Northwest Territories, changes in reimbursement coverage for biosimilars in Ontario, promoting Truth and Reconciliation learning, with a specific focus on health-related Call to Actions #18 to 24, and raising arthritis awareness during provincial and territorial elections in Alberta, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories. Additionally, we've offered strategic advice to rheumatoid arthritis patient organizations in Europe and the Americas, demonstrating our commitment to global collaboration and leadership through the Global RA Network.

Our work in all these areas has been characterized by close partnerships with patients, other patient organizations, health care providers, rheumatologists, and government health ministries. These partnerships have been instrumental in advancing our cause and advocating for the needs of the arthritis community.

As we move into 2024, we acknowledge there is much more work to be done. But our roadmap is clear because we are driven by the “needs compass” of those living with arthritis, their families, and their formal and informal caregivers. The time to navigate and shape the future of arthritis care in Canada is now as federal, provincial, and territorial governments agree on new frameworks for the delivery of healthcare. Governments can no longer afford to delay making positive changes for the arthritis community. They must recognize that arthritis – all 100-plus different types of it – is serious and can be a near constant cause of physical pain and mental health hardship for 6 million-plus Canadians living with arthritis.

So, while much needs to be done in the world of arthritis, we pause to celebrate this Winter Solstice with you by fostering the spirit of peace, rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. When we turn the corner into 2024, please join us in the work ahead to shape a future in healthcare where the voices of those affected by arthritis are heard; where the care provided is equitable, respectful, culturally appropriate, and accessible so that every person with arthritis can live their best life.

Happy Winter Solstice, sincerely,

Cheryl Koehn,
President and person living with rheumatoid arthritis