Canadians are rightly proud of their universal health-care system. Still, Canada is the world’s only high-income country in which health-care services are publicly insured but medications are not.

Effective drugs are central to treatment, but no medicine works if people do not take it. One in five skips doses, splits pills or does not fill prescriptions – all because they cannot afford to pay for their drugs. Not surprisingly, low-income Canadians have worse health outcomes than others.

We aim to change that.

Studies have shown that free medicines transform outcomes in diseases such as schizophrenia or heart-attack recovery. At St. Michael’s Centre for Urban Health Solutions (C-UHS), we asked the question: would free medication across the board encourage low-income patients to take their medicines and thus transform health outcomes, such as control of diabetes or blood pressure? We decided to be the first to test this question in a clinical trial.

As a first step, Dr. Persaud and his team developed a list 140 of essential medicines – based on the longer World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medications – that would cover most Canadians’ medical needs. Remarkably, if these medicines were offered at no charge to all Canadians, the system would save an astounding $3.1 billion a year.

The Elizabeth A. and Richard J. Currie Research Initiative in Health: Essential Medicines for the Working Poor trial is now underway. More than 780 patients are taking part from three family health teams that care for disadvantaged people. Participants are being given their medicine free of charge.

The results of this first-ever study will advance public policy and allow other cities in Canada to scale up this approach to benefit all patients in their jurisdictions. We aim to level the health playing field for all Canadians and make the choice between paying for prescriptions and paying for rent a thing of the past.

Dr. Persaud is one of 25 world-renowned C-UHS scientists who is redefining health care for society’s most marginalized members. 

As the world’s only research centre that is taking a unique, research-based approach to diminish – and in some cases reverse – the detrimental effects of poverty on people’s health, C-UHS’s science is rigorous, its interventions are innovative, and its solutions are scalable. 

You can help us remove barriers to essential medicines, interrupt chronic homelessness, disrupt the opioid crisis, mitigate the health effects of poverty on children, improve Indigenous health, and incubate new initiatives.

Join us in taking on the toughest urban health challenges of our time. 

To donate, please click here or contact Erin Baier at