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Health director already responding to bad news

Suicide, violence and poverty are top priority for Nunavik health board

By JANE GEORGE

Nunavik is dealing with its public health challenges, despite sobering news from the Qanuippitaa health survey’s preliminary results, said Dr. Serge Déry, the region’s director of public health.

Déry said there has been a marked “deterioration” in the mental health of Nunavimmiut and certain health indicators since the last health survey in 1992, but he said the public health department is already working to reduce Nunavik’s high levels of suicide, violence and poverty — even if the results aren’t evident yet.

Last week, for the second year in the row, the health board’s annual general meeting approved a resolution to give top priority to various suicide prevention programs. Déry said prevention programs are taking “a global approach” to lower levels of suicide, violence, and tobacco, alcohol and drug use through projects on self-esteem, anger management and education.

Other projects are tackling poverty, lack of food and related nutritional deficiencies, such as a new pilot project in three Nunavik communities that offers an improved diet based on traditional and store-bought foods for children enrolled in child care centres.

This project wants to encourage children, parents, child care educators and cooks to keep nutritionally healthy habits. By doing this, the project hopes to reduce iron deficiency anemia.

Iron-starved blood or anemia is a major health concern in children as young as six months, where it can lead to a number of long-term health problems. In the long run, the project wants to see community-based nutrition programs to prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Not included in the Qanuippitaa survey are diseases or infections normally reported or tracked by public health officials.

For example, a mammogram machine was carried on board the Amundsen, and 311 women 50 to 69 received mammograms — but this exam is part of a provincial breast cancer prevention program so its positive results don’t appear in the survey.

According to the mammograms, women in Nunavik have a lower than average rate of abnormalities in mammograms. Only five per cent showed any abnormalities, a rate lower than in southern Quebec where the rate of abnormalities is 14 per cent.

In 2004, tuberculosis was up to 10 cases, from two in 2003.

But Déry said there has been a decrease in the number of sexually transmitted diseases, with chlamydia down from 300 cases in 2003 to 285 in 2004, and only 15 cases of gonorrhea in 2004, down from 44 in 2003.

Nunavik also has high levels of flu protection. This year, the public health department is expanding its vaccination campaign against whooping cough to include the 10 to 19 age group.

Déry said the region’s public health department is also developing a regional emergency plan to respond to a flu break-out or large-scale pandemic.

Déry said some information from the Qanuippitaa survey on issues such as nutrition, sexual behaviour and hearing won’t be ready for release until next year.

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