Ottawa must treat Inuit as high-risk group for COVID-19, ITK says
“Long-standing social and economic inequities mean that Inuit communities could be disproportionately affected”
Inuit should be treated as a “special, high-risk group” in the distribution of a $1-billion federal fund aimed at combating COVID-19, says Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
“Long-standing social and economic inequities mean that Inuit communities could be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and should be a priority for allocation of resources,” ITK said in a statement released late in the day on Thursday, March 12.
On March 11, the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a special COVID-19 response fund that exceeds $1 billion.
That funding package includes $500 million to help provinces and territories pay extra health-care costs.
In addition, there’s another $100 million chunk of money that includes enhanced surveillance, more testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory, and support for First Nations and Inuit communities.
And there’s an additional $50 million for the Public Health Agency of Canada to help provinces and territories pay for extra surgical masks, face shields and isolation gowns.
So far, Ottawa has released few details about how and when this money will be distributed.
But ITK says that because of their unique vulnerabilities, people in remote Inuit communities face “potential severe negative outcomes” from illness and the disruption of services.
And the remote location of most Inuit communities will not protect them from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infection, and could hamper efforts to respond to infections.
“The reliance on southern centres for intensive care and laboratory services could limit access to health care for Inuit if these centres become overwhelmed with patients from their own jurisdictions,” ITK said.
They point out that Inuit are already a high-risk group for respiratory infections, including tuberculosis, and that long-standing social and economic inequities make the problem worse.
Also, poor infrastructure makes it difficult to separate people who fall ill from people who are well—also known as social isolation—and that Inuit must travel outside their communities to get health care.
“Prolonged disruptions in travel could have severe detrimental effects on the health, economy and well-being of the community and community members,” ITK said.
At the same time, high levels of poverty make Inuit vulnerable to any disruptions in transportation.
“The high dependence of Inuit communities on limited routes for provisions makes them vulnerable to shortages of crucial items, if a high degree of disease transmission in the south causes transport delays or shortages.”
ITK said it’s waiting to hear about a promised Inuit-specific share of the federal COVID-19 funding and that it wants Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller to be added to a special COVID-19 cabinet committee.
“ITK is continuing to monitor the situation via daily updates from the Government of Canada, and is in contact with the medical officers of health in all regions of Inuit Nunangat through our Inuit public health task group,” the statement said.
No confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported so far in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.
As of March 12, the number of confirmed cases in Canada stood at 138, the Public Health Agency of Canada said.
The jurisdictions with the highest numbers of cases, as of March 12, were Ontario (59), British Columbia (46) and Alberta (19).
Yesterday, Trudeau cancelled an in-person meeting with Indigenous leaders and placed himself in self-isolation. His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, has tested positive for the coronavirus.