Nunavut health department plans renewed fight against TB

More than $700,000 earmarked for tuberculosis programs in 2012-13


New infections of the tuberculosis bacteria are 30 times higher in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada. (FILE IMAGE)

New infections of the tuberculosis bacteria are 30 times higher in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada. (FILE IMAGE)

Faced with high numbers of active tuberculosis cases, Nunavut’s health department plans to boost its TB screening, prevention and treatment efforts into 2013.

An upcoming meeting will determine just how much money the Government of Nunavut will put towards fighting the deadly lung ailment over the coming year, territorial Health Minister Keith Peterson said Feb. 28 in the Nunavut legislature.

But Peterson cited a figure of $717,000 for its TB programs during the legislature’s committee of the whole deliberations.

Last year, the fight against TB in Iqaluit was led by Taima TB, an ambitious pilot project, that combined public education, social media outreach, door-to-door screening and treatment.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Aboriginal Health Organization and the New Brunswick Lung Association were all involved in planning and overseeing Taima TB, while the most of its funding came from an $800,000 contribution from the Public Health Agency of Canada, first announced in January 2011.

But there was no money from the GN, although its health workers collaborated with the project.

Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez, a lung specialist and researcher at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, who spearheaded project, told Nunatsiaq News last December that he would like to continue Taima TB in Iqaluit and expand it to other communities in the Baffin region where the number of active TB infections remain high.

Now, it appears the GN will help support Taima TB into 2012-13 because Peterson called Taima TB “the project we have.”

Figures tabled Feb. 21 in the Nunavut legislature show TB continues to affect many in Nunavut: from January to October 2011, 62 new cases of active TB surfaced in the territory.

Overall, there were 75 active cases of TB reported in Nunavut in 2011, 97 per cent in the Baffin region.

Peterson and his officials told the committee of the whole that they weren’t aware of any antibiotic-resistant strains of TB so far in Nunavut.

Active cases of TB, an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs, require treatment with a combination of four drugs, including antibiotics, for six months.

Medication can then prevent TB-infected people from developing full-blown symptoms of TB.

But, if untreated, the disease can be fatal.

TB preys on people whose general well-being is already weakened by poor diet, smoking and alcohol abuse. Crowded housing also encourages the spread of the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, each person with active TB can infect 10 to 15 people a year on average.

So, based on the WHO transmission estimates, Nunavut’s Baffin region could have more than 1,000 active TB cases.

However, without screening, most people infected with the tuberculosis bacillus, or germ, don’t become ill or even know they are infected because germ can lie dormant in a person’s lungs for many years.

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