Taima TB may be a model for Nunavut: doctor
Tuberculosis project “had a very good response” in Iqaluit
If you live in Nunavut, you’re 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with a new case of tuberculosis than other Canadians living elsewhere in the country.
But thanks to this year’s Taima TB program, people in Iqaluit have been diagnosed and treated more quickly.
That program, an ambitious combination of public education, social media outreach, door-to-door screening and treatment, launched last April.
Built around the motto “Get tested before you get sick,” Taima TB (whose name roughly means “end TB” in Inuktitut) aimed to improve screening for TB and treatment for people with active TB cases.
It also wanted to reduce the overall number of TB cases in Iqaluit — which accounts for half of Nunavut’s yearly TB cases — by talking about how to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Taima TB approach appears to have worked, said Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez, a lung specialist and researcher at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who has served as Nunavut’s consulting respirologist for the past six years, who spearheaded the $800,000 public health project.
Reluctant to cite any numbers yet about how many TB cases were detected by Taima TB in Iqaluit, Alvarez only would only say that “to me it looks like it had a very good response from the community.”
The program’s TB champions, lnuktitut-speaking workers, collected “thousands and thousands of case reports” going door-to-door, he said.
And the response to Taima TB’s YouTube video challenge was great, he said. These videos, which can still be viewed on YouTube, communicated basic information on TB, which the champions showed during their home visits.
“In my opinion these were huge successes,” Alvarez said.
Taima TB also set up a Facebook site. There, artist Noah Maniapik posted a print dealing with TB. “As a kid I had TB, I did this print depicting all those who lost their fight to TB. This print is part of my 2011 print collection,” he wrote on the group’s wall.
“That’s exactly what we wanted, for someone to post something like it. The team was really excited by that,” Alvarez said.
As for the results, these will be presented to the community in March.
Meanwhile, Alvarez said he’s working on a plan to expand Taima TB to other communities.
There’s no lack of TB around the territory, and every statistic shows rates for TB in Nunavut are sky-high. For example, the incidence of new TB cases is 60 times higher in Nunavut than in a city like Ottawa.
In 2010, Nunavut recorded 102 TB cases, the highest number of Nunavut cases since 1999.
TB cases in 2011 are “on pace” with last year, Alvarez said. “Do I continue to see active cases of TB here in Ottawa? I do.”
Several comments have come to Nunatsiaq News over the past months from Cape Dorset, where people appear to be living in fear of catching TB.
“The town is contaminated, government, health center, school, social services, hamlet. Make all the people in town get TB tested every two months until every infected person is healed,” said a commenter. “Elders who went to Cape Dorset last summer should get TB tested too and others who visited Cape Dorset to prevent other communities to get infected.”
TB is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs, although all other organs may be involved.
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.
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.
But, without treatment, tuberculosis can eventually kill by gradually eating away at the lungs or, in rare cases, by spreading to other organs.
One way to diagnose TB is by performing a simple skin test to see if a person has developed a hypersensitivity to the TB germ.
Medication can then prevent infected people from developing full-blown symptoms of TB
Doctors are testing four-month treatments to see if these work. But, for now if you have latent or sleeping TB infection, you’ll be taking one medication for nine months.
Active cases of TB require treatment with a combination of four drugs for six months.
But there’s still a huge stigma about having TB or being treated, Alvarez said.
An Iqaluit resident told Nunatsiaq News that “so many people have negative attitudes towards people with TB.”
“I was the only one in my class in elementary that came up positive. I was an outcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday I was called to the office to take my medication. Everyone in school knew why I was called to the office with a few other kids. Not my fault that someone infected me, but I was left to deal with the effects of everyong treating me like some deseased animal.”
Alvarez hopes Taima TB, which he described as a “team effort” on the part of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Aboriginal Health Organization, the New Brunswick Lung Association and Nunavut public health workers, can help people overcome that stigma.
You can watch one of Taima TB’s videos here: