New Baffin hospital won't be much help
Child lung infections impose big costs on GN
The cost of treating lung infections among Inuit children in the Baffin region is steep and continues to rise as the expense of transportation and southern-based medical treatment increase.
Every year, at least 20 to 25 children with lung infections are medevaced from the Baffin region to be treated at the intensive care unit of the Children's Hospital for Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.
Inuit make up about four per cent of the 600 children who end up at this hospital's ICU ward – many times more than there should be, based on the small size of Baffin's population.
In 2004, Dr. David Creery, director of the ICU at the Eastern Ontario children's hospital, published a study on where these young children come from, how much their illnesses cost the health system, and how their serious lung infections might be avoided.
Creery found the average cost per medevaced child was $12,029 for those sent to Iqaluit, and $45,688 for those sent to Ottawa, with a total cost to the system of nearly $3 million during the study period. A viral outbreak among infants in just one community, Igloolik, cost the system nearly a million dollars.
These costs would likely be much higher today.
But Creery says it's not likely that the number of medevacs can be reduced in the future.
That's because he doubts that the new Qikiqtani regional hospital in Iqaluit will provide the same level of care that young Inuit children get in Ottawa.
It won't be easy to find and recruit the "highly specialized" nurses needed for their care, even if a telemedicine link is eventually set up for consultations between the two hospitals, Creery told Nunatsiaq News in a recent interview.
Young children who end up in the ICU are usually suffering from bronchioltis, an inflammation of the small passages in the lungs, which is often caused by respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.
RSV is virus is spread through coughing,sneezing or direct contact with someone who has the virus. RSV infections can lead to a stuffy nose, fever, difficulty in breathing and poor feeding.
As their lungs fill up with mucus, it's harder for young children and babies to breathe, eat and drink. Without medical intervention, such as a breathing tube into their lungs and intravenous liquids, children, particularly infants, can die.
The health department is now studying the use of the drug Palivizumab to protect children against RSV, but monthly injections of this medicine may cost up to $9,000 per patient, because the immunity produce by a single shot lasts only for about a month. A single injection costs about $1,500.