WINNIPEG -- A pair of researchers from the University of Manitoba have received nearly $1 million in total funding for two separate projects that look at public health responses to coronavirus in Indigenous populations.

On Friday morning the federal government announced it will be giving $27 million to fund 47 research teams as part of the COVID-19 Rapid Response Program.

According to a news release from the U of M, Dr. Michelle Driedger is receiving $499, 731 for a study called ‘The paradox of precaution: Examining public health COVID-19 outbreak management strategies.’

Driedger, a former Canada research chair in environment and health risk communications, has done previous research on the H1N1 pandemic through two different grants: one looking at the Metis experience and one looking at the general Canadian population. She said the funding for this work didn’t come in until the second wave of the pandemic was finished, so she’s excited the funding for the COVID-19 research has come in while the outbreak is evolving. 

“This means we will be able to collect data and help inform public health response efforts as we develop new insights from our research projects,” she said.

Driedger noted her team’s research on COVID-19 will look at how members of the public, including specifically population such as the Metis, understand public-health communication efforts and how they can protect themselves.

“It is critically imperative to ensure that what public health is communicating is being understood as intended so that we may identify if any changes in the messaging may be needed to ensure that Canadians feel informed and empowered,” she said.

Dr. Stephane McLachlan is receiving $500,000 for his study called ‘kitatipithitamak mithwayawin: Indigenous-Led Planning and Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other Pandemics Then, Now, and Into the Future.’

McLachlan said research on past pandemics has shown that Indigenous people have suffered more than other Canadians. His research project will work with Indigenous communities and organizations developing countermeasures in order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

In a matter of a week, a remarkable diversity of Indigenous communities and organizations joined this project as partners, in part reflecting the great need for such a project but also reflecting an active desire to take a leadership role in how COVID-19 might be better managed moving forward,” he said.

Indigenous scholar Myrle Ballard, who’s McLachlan’s co-investigator, said the research will look at how First Nations have dealt with pandemics in the past and how they coped.

“The timeliness of this research aligns with what First Nation communities are doing in preparation for a major pandemic,” she said.

“When the pandemic passes, this research will be a great tool for documenting ‘lessons learned’ that will be used for First Nations organizations, health care providers, and policy- and decision-makers.”

According to the news release, the goal of the project is to create positive change regarding pandemics and health care as it relates to Indigenous communities.