Nunavik village declines health centre renovation over COVID-19 concerns

Public health offered to bypass quarantine period to kick-start construction

Municipal officials in Kangiqsualujjuaq, pictured here, declined to allow a construction crew to fly in to install a new X-ray machine to detect TB. The crew would not have been quarantined first, prompting municipal councillors to worry that the visit could cause COVID-19 to spread. (Photo by Sarah Rogers)

By Sarah Rogers

A Nunavik mayor is chiding public health officials for trying to skirt the region’s quarantine process in order to kick-start an important health-care centre renovation.

Kangiqsualujjuaq Mayor Davidee Annanack said he and the Northern Village council were approached on May 14 by Nunavik’s director of public health, Dr. Marie Rochette, who was looking for authorization to fly in construction workers from Montreal just four days later, on Monday, May 18.

A crew of six workers would be working to renovate the local health centre ahead of the installation of a new X-ray machine used to help detect tuberculosis, which would replace an older machine that no longer works, while more specialized teams would be required to fly in to install the X-ray machine.

Nunavik health officials promised that the workers would self-isolate during their time in the community, but they would not complete a period of quarantine before flying from Montreal to Kangiqsualujjuaq, which prompted concern from municipal officials.

“We do want the machine,” Annanack said in Inuktitut, translated into English by Kangiqsualujjuaq’s deputy mayor, Nancy Etok.

“It was just a little too fast, especially given that Montreal has been a hot spot for COVID-19. So we told them no,” he said. “It almost felt like [public health] was overriding their own decision.”

COVID-19 has shut down inter-community travel in Nunavik, except for essential workers and individuals requiring urgent health care. Anyone coming into the region is supposed to be in quarantine for 14 days prior to their travel.

But Kangiqsualujjuaq, with a population of about 1,000, has struggled with TB outbreaks in recent years. The last one was in 2017, when a 21-year-old man died of the bacterial infection.

A handful of newer cases were detected through community-wide screening carried out in Kangiqsualujjuaq last summer, and at least one further case of TB was identified this year.

Rochette said the community was given the option to replace the machine sooner rather than later because workers would otherwise not be available until July—meaning the new machine wouldn’t be in operation until October 2020.

“It was a very unique situation,” Rochette said. “I didn’t want to impose anything. We thought that with strict measures, it would have been enough to start the work this week.”

“Knowing that TB is still a concern in Kangiqsualujjuaq, I wanted this to be looked at first,” she said.

The same machines will eventually be installed in each of Nunavik’s 14 communities, but Rochette considered Kangiqsualujjuaq to have the greatest need.

Without a local X-ray machine, residents who show any symptoms of TB must be flown to Kuujjuaq for X-rays, Rochette explained. That’s now a more complicated trip to arrange, with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Across Quebec, construction workers have been approved to return to work. But because of the travel required to reach Nunavik communities, there is a regional committee tasked with approving which construction projects should be prioritized over the summer months.

In the case of Kangiqsualujjuaq, Annanack said the arrival of a crew would have put the safety and health of community members at risk.

Annanack said even the suggestion of it harkened back to the 1960s and 1970s, a time he remembers the Quebec government treating Nunavik communities as colonies, when Inuit had little say in managing their own affairs.

With that said, Annanack said he’s still anxious to see restrictions in the region eased—he just wants to make sure Nunavimmiut are on board.

“COVID-19 is going to be around for a long time, so we really need to work together to get communities back up and running,” Annanack said. “A lot of people are really frustrated with the lockdown approach.”

Across Nunavik’s 14 communities, there have been 16 cases of COVID-19—in Salluit, Inukjuak and Puvirnituq—though all the individuals concerned have now recovered.

Throughout the region, only residents who are suspected of possibly having the virus are tested. As of May 17, 236 tests have been done and have come back negative; nine of those are from Kangiqsualujjuaq.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Inu on

    Nunavik really needs to look into new routs when it comes to going to hospitals . Montreal is not the only place where medical can be taken care of . I’m from Nunavut and it clearly shows that Nunavik people don’t get along with French people in Montreal which only leads to be neglected by French people . Wish they could see how much Nunavik people are taken advantage of since day 1 .
    As for the X-ray machine that needs to be installed , honestly you need the x/ray machines in your town so you won’t have to be flown out just get a x-ray done . Built a new trailer away from your community where the contractors can stay in . Built a camp .

  2. Posted by disgusting on

    Why cant they put the same effort into stopping the dope smoking, gaming houses? They put blinders on for the real community issues

  3. Posted by Shows controversy on

    There’s been too much controversy and ambiguity coming from authorities in Nunavik addressing covid-19. The restrictions and curfews continues to be questionable. It’s confusing the population. The restrictions on beer and wine purchase at two local co-op stores made more concerns with large line-ups in the confinement of the new rules. The curfew were lifted and people kind of started getting together again, all in confusion and misunderstanding from the health authorities. I’m saying great work from kangiqsualujjuaq mayor and council. They made the right decision to continue protecting the community, as they’re working with the confusion and can see the reality when the authorities cannot see it. It’s good to see inuit stand up, like I’m saying, Inuit can see between the lines here, and is following the procedures. And nice to see that Inuit are right , as the authorities are now going along with Inuit decisions, to delay this x-ray machine.

  4. Posted by Those sub committees on

    Everything now is not only overseen by committees, but they created sub committees to make more confusion. What is happening? Sub committees made up of committees. The committees were groups of those going around spreading the flu for long years, now they continue to meet two meters apart , maybe not spreading as much disease anymore, but the winds of the committees turned into sub committees and continue to do the same old nothing in our lives. What’s wrong with people? Can we get another committee to see what’s going on with theses sub committees. The population is sick of committees , sub committees, and waste of money , resources, time, and nil accomplishments. All this as I listen to the public health doctor on radio being interviewed today by mr Gordon.

  5. Posted by Merci on

    Nunavik has nothing to offer it’s citizens, other than puppet copies of the province. All decisions are made in Quebec City. If something is discussed at the Nunavik level, it’s nothing but fine tuning the already made agenda. It’s good for the Quebec government to keep the noises down, by pretending to give responsibility to Nunavik leaders in some form, but the shots are called from the assembly. Some how, that decision made by public health doctor regarding the x-ray machine was a slip out of the normal. In all disrespect to the agenda of the province. She some how, forgot, or took a bad decision into her own hands, against what Nunavik is allow to do. She must remember she is but a puppet for Quebec City too.

  6. Posted by People can’t go home yet on

    In Nunavik there’s a complaint going around that Inuit can’t get back home, all the while white essential workers are travelling freely as needed. Many Inuit agree with these restrictions and agree that it’s proper also about who can travel. But some Inuit are blaming the restrictions on the white authorities, but all along its Inuit authorities that are preventing Inuit from travelling home, and allowing white essential workers to travel. Thus is a usual scenario for many complaining Inuit that fail to see the reality of who allows Inuit to live a certain way. It’s usually blamed on the south, which in fact a fellow Inuit makes the decision, unaware to the complainers.

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