Amundsen brings health workers to Nunavik
Nunavimmiut invited on board for health survey, mammograms
Next week, some residents of Kuujjuaraapik will be the first Nunavimmiut to go aboard the Amundsen, when the refitted research icebreaker and its crew of health workers and researchers arrives in the eastern Hudson Bay community.
About one out of every five families in Nunavik, or about 685 households, have been asked to participate in this survey, which will provide information on general health, lifestyle, diet, heart disease and exposure to environmental contaminants.
But all women aged 50 to 69 – even if their household hasn’t been selected for the survey – will be able to board the Amundsen where they can receive tests aimed at detecting cancer before it spreads.
Any woman in this age group may ask her local health clinic to book a mammogram when the Amundsen is in her community. A mammogram test uses X-ray technology to get an inside look at breast tissue and spot abnormal growths.
“This is the same breast cancer prevention program which is available throughout Quebec, but it took us a while to organize it here as there is no mammography equipment in the North,” said Dr. Serge Déry, the director of public health in Nunavik.
Pap tests, which check a uterus to detect cancer, will also be offered to women in this age group when the boat stops in their community.
By Oct. 1, when the survey wraps up in Kuujjuaq, about 1,800 Nunavimmiut, 15 and over, will have stepped on board the Amundsen.
As an added incentive for Nunavimmiut to participate and agree to fast if necessary before blood tests and to show up on time for appointments, those who complete the survey will receive from $10 to $35, depending on their age. As well, they won’t lose any salary for missed time at work and they’ll be eligible for entry in a draw for Air Inuit and First Air tickets.
At the same time, Arctic Net, a five-year, $100-million research project on climate change in coastal Arctic regions, is conducting tests and collecting samples along the coast of Nunavik. Its researchers will analyze data to see if climate change is having any impact on health.
Arctic Net is paying about half the cost of operating the Amundsen during the survey. As well, the northern contaminant program of the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs is supporting the project, bringing Qanuippitaa’s total budget to $3 million.
Next year, Quebec’s bureau of statistics, Institut de la statistique du Québec, will process the survey’s data and present the results. Then, researchers will compare these results with other studies and data on northern populations, before publishing a final report in 2006.
Qanuippitaa should lead to better public health policies and programs in Nunavik.
A 1992 survey reported a high level of lead content in the participants’ blood samples. Using this information, Nunavik’s public health department determined it was the same type of lead used in shotgun ammunition.
Health officials asked stores to stop selling cartridges with lead shot and sell cartridges with steel shot instead. The levels of lead in the blood of Nunavik children have since dropped off.
“Together, let’s find out how we are doing in Nunavik… Because I take Nunavik’s health to heart, I’m participating,” says a trilingual information brochure on the Qanuippitaa survey.
To follow the Amundsen’s progress, consult the survey’s web site at www.qanuippitaa.com.