GN hopes tuberculosis clinic will help end outbreak in Pangnirtung
Community clinic opening delayed by poor weather; is expected to remain open until Dec. 1
With a screening clinic set to open in Pangnirtung, the Government of Nunavut’s top doctor hopes to screen as many people as possible for tuberculosis as the community continues to grapple with an outbreak.
The clinic was to open Wednesday but was delayed due to poor weather and flying conditions delayed the arrival of Health Department staff who are running the clinic. Organizers say they hope it can start Thursday.
It is expected to run in the hamlet’s community hall until Dec. 1, with hopes that Pangnirtung’s 1,500 residents will use the opportunity to get screened by then.
“The clinic is open to everyone in the community and as many as possible that choose to access the clinic or want to get tested,” said Dr. Jasmine Pawa, Nunavut’s acting chief public health officer, in an interview Wednesday.
Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterial disease that often impacts the lungs. It can cause weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats and can be fatal if not treated, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.
The tuberculosis outbreak in Pangnirtung was declared on Nov. 25, 2021. In its most recent update on Aug. 26, Nunavut’s Health Department reported 40 active and 187 latent cases since January 2021.
In cases of latent tuberculosis, the person usually shows no symptoms and does not pass the bacteria on to others. However, latent TB can become active and sicken the person with it.
Through the clinic, residents will have access to a number of screening tools including a skin test, chest X-rays, and phlegm collection.
As well, various medical specialists from Nunavut and from outside the territory will be present, said Victoria Blanchard, the GN’s acting manager of tuberculosis programs.
The goal, she said, “is to eradicate TB, so this is one step: addressing the outbreak that’s been ongoing here and bringing every service to the community including nurses, doctors, X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists, specialist physicians, so that it’s as accessible as it can be to the residents who want to get screened,” she said.
Residents who get screened and test positive for either latent or active TB should expect a call from staff to get treated.
Through the clinic, they will receive medication they need to recover. Treatment may vary depending on the type of TB.
“I think it’s important to get the message out that TB is curable with medications, it is something that can be treated, so I think that’s why the early detection is so important,” Blanchard said
While the goal of this clinic is to test for and hopefully eradicate TB, both Pawa and Blanchard said other changes are required.
Specifically, both said that a larger supply of adequate housing is needed in Pangnirtung, as crowded living spaces are a major risk factor for TB.
“So everything we can do as to kind of make the case from a health perspective that more housing is needed would be really helpful,” Pawa said, “and we recognize that there’s lots of factors behind that, lots of people working on it and lots of shared responsibilities.”
She said access to good housing, jobs and economic opportunities “would also be really helpful to working towards the goal of eliminating TB.”
Pawa and Blanchard recognized the work of staff at the Pangnirtung health centre, as well as the support from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the federal government which has allowed them to set up the community-wide screening.
“All of this is very much a team effort,” Pawa said.