Expert: hold inquiry into Igloolik infant deaths

“There should be a public inquiry into the deaths of these kids”


If two babies had died within two weeks of each other in any town in southern Canada with a population like Igloolik’s, there would be a public inquiry, a Canadian expert on children’s lung infections in the Arctic, said this past week.

“There should be a public inquiry into the deaths of these kids,” Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, told Nunatsiaq News March 5.

The Government of Nunavut has not said what exactly killed the two babies.

But last week, Nunavut’s public health department admitted that RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, has been detected recently in Nunavut communities, along with H1N1 and H3N2 flu strains.

RSV is a virus that causes life-threatening lung infections in vulnerable children.

“RSV is still a big problem in the Arctic,” Banerji said.

Nunavut and Nunavik are afflicted by RSV infection rates, which, even in a good year, stand 10 to 15 times higher in than other regions of Canada.

Banerji said Nunavut suffers from a “perfect storm” of breeding conditions for the potentially deadly RSV virus.

They are:

• overcrowding;

• poor ventilation;

• high smoking rates;

• low levels of breastfeeding;

• many premature births; and

• poor diet.

Right now, Banerji is keeping a close watch over RSV and other respiratory viruses in 10 sites in Canada and Greenland.

This past weekend, Banerji attended an international conference on indigenous child health in Vancouver, where she presented her work on RSV among Inuit children.

One in every 20 babies hospitalized with RSV winds up on life support, she said.

Also, the infection can lead to long-lasting health effects, Banerji’s research has found.

Last year, even when there was little RSV in the territory, two Nunavut babies died from RSV complications.

Doctors around the world give a series of shots of an antibody, called palivizumab, to the most vulnerable infants, especially those who were born prematurely or suffer from heart ailments.

In 2009, the Canadian Pediatric Society said all Inuit babies should get these immunization shots, which protects eight of 10 babies from RSV.

But the Government of Nunavut’s public health unit decided not to follow that recommendation.

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