NEWS: Around the Arctic April 22, 2012 - 4:21 pm

Lessons from Third World could help fix circumpolar health crisis: experts

“Inuit from the Arctic, San from the Kalahari, and Yanomami of the Amazon have shared concerns"


MONTREAL — In an era of federal government cutbacks, some of the strategies used to provide low-cost health solutions in Africa and other areas of the poor, developing world could be used in the circumpolar region, experts said April 22 at a conference in Montreal.

That’s among the suggestions proposed during a panel on global health and circumpolar perspectives held in Montreal, as the International Polar Year science conference gets underway.

“Inuit from the Arctic, San from the Kalahari, and Yanomami of the Amazon have shared concerns,” said Dr. Jeff Reading of the Centre of Aboriginal Health research at the University of Victoria, during a panel discussion.

To deal with the poor health of many circumpolar residents, health experts will have to think of new ways to work with diminished resources, Reading said.

Some of the medical researchers who attended the panel session at the Palais des congrès said they were frustrated that their research never seems to have an effect on health policy and “is not usually translated into better outcomes.”

Now Arctic residents are looking at even more health problems due to the changing climate, said Birgitta Evengård, a Swedish health researcher, who specializes in infectious diseases.

Increasingly climate change will affect infrastructure, housing and water quality as well as bring in new diseases.

Access to clean, safe water will change as permafrost melts and releases new diseases into the water supply, she said.

So far, there have been epidemics in some areas of Scandinavia and Northern Russia due to new micro-organisms and, in one instance, the release of anthrax, a cause of lethal infection and illness, from melting permafrost.

Already the Center for Disease Control in the United States has found higher hospitalization rates among children in Alaskan homes that didn’t have piped water. And for people of all ages, in communities with lower water availability, there are higher rates of skin infections.

To cope with these challenges requires a big approach, looking at related issues such as human rights, said panelist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and award-winning environmental activist.

“The strong connection between the health and social well-being of our communities and our environment and maintaining our Arctic environment is more than just an environmental concern — it is an issue of our very right and ability to exist as an indigenous people,” said Watt-Cloutier.

But, as the same time, Watt-Cloutier also suggested there’s a need for more “community-placed” solutions and celebration of language and culture.

Health and well-being will continue to be among the topics discussed during the science conference, called “From Knowledge to Action,”which is bringing together more than 2,000 Arctic and Antarctic researchers, policy- and decision-makers and representatives industry, non-government, education and circumpolar communities.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, are scheduled to speak at the April 23 opening.