Plan to wipe out tuberculosis in Inuit communities shifts to prevention

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OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says a plan aimed at eliminating tuberculosis from Inuit communities shows the federal government is “getting its act together.”

Philpott, together with the leader of Canada’s national Inuit group, revealed Monday how it will follow through on a Liberal pledge to wipe tuberculosis from the Arctic by 2030. Philpott said the framework will help move from fighting outbreaks of the respiratory disease to preventing them from occurring.

“You have to have the will, you have to have the massive investment, but you also have to be very, very organized,” Philpott said.

“It needs to get down to the minutiae of detail: ‘How many more nurses need to be trained? How many more community health workers need to be trained? Where do they need to go?’ ”

Monday’s announcement outlines a plan to have regional Inuit organizations come up with concrete answers to some of those questions by the spring.

Inuit communities suffer tuberculosis at rates 300 times higher than those in the south. The Liberals promised to cut those rates in half by 2025 and wipe out the disease five years after that.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapirisiit Kanatami, said that will require shifting from treating outbreaks of the disease to prevention.

“That requires a number of changes in the methodology and the scope of ambition,” he said. “It’s a holistic, wrap-around approach.”

Community-wide TB screening, already in place in some Nunavut hamlets, could be used more widely. Inuit-specific research will have to be conducted.

Most importantly, poverty and overcrowded housing will have to be addressed.

“(We) are going to have to get an order of magnitude more money into our Inuit regions to work on this,” said Obed.

Philpott said the government has already set aside about $28 million in the last budget for the effort. It has also promised $400 million over 10 for three of the four Inuit regions as well as $240 million over the same period for Nunavut.

Nunavut alone estimates a housing shortfall of 3,000 units — a shortfall growing all the time in a territory with Canada’s highest birth rate.

“We recognize that this is just the beginning,” said Philpott. “There are very significant investments that need to accompany the work on elimination of tuberculosis.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960

The Canadian Press