Nunavik health board returns to TB prevention as COVID-19 declines
More resources will be available for education, screening, says regional director of public health
A decline in COVID-19 cases means the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services can refocus its efforts on preventing another problematic disease in the region: tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis screening and treatment have been available throughout the pandemic, said Dr. Marie Rochette, Nunavik’s director of public health. But COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions over the past two years have made it hard to set up community screening events.
“Communities were more concerned by COVID than tuberculosis,” Rochette said in an interview on Thursday, which was also World Tuberculosis Day.
“Our plan was to have two to three [community screenings] per year, and we were only able to do one, partially, during the pandemic because all the resources were affected due to the management of COVID-19.”
Tuberculosis is more common across Inuit Nunangat than in the south, according to Rochette. Crowded housing, as well as the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are all risk factors that can make the disease worse.
Tuberculosis symptoms may include prolonged cough, chest pain, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats, according to the World Health Organization. It’s caused by a bacterial infection and is spread through the air by coughing, talking or singing.
With more resources available now, Rochette said the health board has more flexibility to educate the public about prevention, treatment, and breaking the stigma people face when they get sick.
She also said that tuberculosis screening will be offered during clinical visits to ensure that it is as accessible as possible.
“We would like to integrate screening like a clinical routine, so people will be invited to try screening every two years,” she said. “This is a new approach we would like to implement and see how it works.”
Tuberculosis rates have decreased in Nunavik in recent years. There have been four cases so far this year — a number Rochette says is “quite low” compared to 69 cases in 2019.
Reduced socializing and other pandemic-related restrictions could be a potential factor in lower TB rates, she said, adding community screening helps track and treat active cases.
Rochette emphasized that Nunavimmiut should remember that tuberculosis is both preventable and treatable. Preventive medications and antibiotics are available to people who are sick and at risk.
“We are working with the different community’s leaders, and the population, and the health centres to reduce and eliminate this disease in the region,” she said.