TB still has Nunavut coughing | Polarjournal
Since last May, the community of Naujaat in northeastern Canada has been suffering from a tuberculosis epidemic. An official visit by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer is expected to provide an insight into the difficulties faced by the local population. Photo : CalmAir

Tuberculosis epidemics are currently affecting Nunavut. Between an official visit and budgetary issues, the fight against this disease continues in a region that still has extremely high rates.

The community of Naujaat, in northeastern Canada, is particularly hard hit. A tuberculosis epidemic broke out in May last year. Six active cases (with symptoms) and 10 latent cases (without symptoms) had been diagnosed in a population of 1,300. In response, the Department of Health encouraged people to get tested if they had symptoms or come into contact with a sick person, and to seek treatment if they were infected with Koch’s bacillus.

Since then, the situation has hardly improved. Tuberculosis continues to strike Naujaat and cases are on the increase. A prevention and screening clinic was set up yesterday. Until the end of May, its mission will be to test Naujaat inhabitants. The clinic will be operated by the Health Department in partnership with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the Inuit’s legal representative organization.

This week, the latter will welcome Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, whose official visit to Naujaat and Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), also hard hit by a tuberculosis epidemic, coincides with the opening of the prevention and screening clinic. The Dr. Tam will be accompanied by several representatives of the NTI, including Vice-President Paul Irngaut, and of the government, including John Main, Nunavut Minister of Health. An opportunity to demonstrate the difficulties faced by local residents. “Nunavut Inuit face challenges that don’t affect most Canadians when accessing healthcare,” said Paul Irngaut in a press release issued yesterday by NTI. “Having Dr. Tam on the ground visiting Nunavut communities will give her the opportunity to see firsthand some of the barriers that Inuit face when trying to navigate the healthcare system in Nunavut.”

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Nunavut capital, Iqaluit, is no more spared from tuberculosis than the territory’s other towns and villages. In addition to frequent, and often costly screening tests, solutions to contain the disease continue to be proposed. Recently, a wastewater study was launched in Iqaluit. The idea is to detect traces of tuberculosis in wastewater on a city-wide scale, so as to be able to react more quickly and stop the spread. Photo : Wikimedia Commons

Among these obstacles, the recurring shortage of medical staff and difficulties in accessing care figure prominently alongside the social problems facing Nunavut, including food insecurity, poverty and lack of housing. These factors combine to create a breeding ground for tuberculosis, which remains a major health problem in Nunavut to this day.

In 2018, the Canadian government and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the organization that represents Canada’s Inuit, committed to eradicating tuberculosis by 2030. Last year, the government earmarked C$16 million (over €10 million) to tackle the problem. For Nathan Obed, President of ITK, this is barely 12% of the investment needed to overcome this disease. A situation denounced by Inuit organizations who are urging the government to devote more of the federal budget to the problem. The budget for 2024 will be presented today.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has virtually been eradicated from Western countries. However, it continues to represent a real health problem for Canada Arctic Indigenous communities. In Nunavut, tuberculosis rates are 400 times higher than the national average.

Mirjana Binggeli, Polar Journal AG

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