Canada’s national Inuit organization says the remote location of most Inuit communities will not protect them from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and could hamper efforts to respond to infections in Inuit communities.(Wikimedia Commons image)

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”

By Jim Bell

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.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    When it comes to a pandemic it is better to be prepared and not need it than to need it and not be prepared.
    It is probably too late to order additional ventilators, but the GN can make the case for more, and more effective test kits, N95 masks for health care workers, protective clothing, etc.
    There are limited health care workers in each community, what happens if/when they get sick?
    Every community needs a plan to isolate and care for people who develop the disease, especially the aged. The GN, and each community needs to communicate this to everyone to give people confidence that people in authority know what to do in this crisis.
    Communicate this via radio and start now with social distancing. That will be very difficult due to the community structures and overcrowded living conditions, limited stores, etc. but each community needs a plan.

  2. Posted by Raymond on

    In order to protect all Nunavut citizens the flights to Nunavut from southern departure points should be postponed for a two week period, respecting the quarantine period.

    • Posted by Think on

      So does that mean no more medical travel going south? Or let the medical travellers travel, but no one else?

      Who’s going to compensate the airlines, which are contractually obligated to fly but now because of your decree cannot carry passengers apart from medical travellers?

  3. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Old Trapper – I agree. I understand that this type of an emergency is built into the emergency preparedness in Nunavut and each of its communities. I have my doubts that anyone has even opened the manual yet.

    Raymond I agree that we should be checking every flight that comes from our three southern departure airports. Not necessarily shut them down yet but certainly we could have heat detectors that pick up fevers (one of the first signs) before departure and presenting your boarding pass at the gate. Or when the plane arrives in Nunavut/NWT

  4. Posted by No Like on

    I do not like the stance.
    Like Inuit are so immune to many things because they live so close together and without fears. Let’s not be so eager to be victims before it happens.

    • Posted by Observer on

      In the midst of a pandemic caused by a novel virus in the human population, that’s a particularly dangerous attitude to have. *Nobody*, regardless of their history, is special.

  5. Posted by Blll Buck on

    I am a teacher. The Nunavut Government should stop playing with peoples’ lives and close the schools for a bit.

  6. Posted by Okay on

    ITK is just a little bit off on this one. Inuit are not high-risk people. ITK has a stronger argument for the geographical location and its lack of resources as being high-risk areas . But when it comes to strength and resiliency Inuit are some of the strongest people in the world. ITK is doing the best to represents its people so my praise to them.

    • Posted by Reality check on

      In reality Inuit health today ranks among the poorest in the country. Crowded living conditions are obviously a liability too. This is no time for magical thinking and fantasies

      • Posted by Okay on

        I don’t think it is necessary to label a people as high risk. ITK can get away with that. A non-Inuit can’t. Labeling can be a self-fulling prophecy. The north is high risk because of its lack of resources, housing, health, etc. There is no need to victimized any ethnic group by negatively labeling them.. We Are all in this together. Some of us worst off than others, like people with underly medical conditions and with compromise immune system.

        • Posted by Mark E Perrault on

          There are more people with high risk factors BUT an innuit spends their days outside and isn’t a chronic smoker is less likely to get sick because of the clean sir and strong lungs to breath in the Arctic air – a ranger is in far better health than the average soldiere.

          Live traditional lifestyle and you are healthy as an human on planet earth.

          But your ELDERS who have lived a hard life due to poverty and abuse are vulnerable and there are not enough ventilators available so the healthy who may show no symptoms must protect the vulnerable like a warrior protects the weak

          • Posted by Observer on

            “There are more people with high risk factors BUT an innuit spends their days outside and isn’t a chronic smoker is less likely to get sick because of the clean sir and strong lungs to breath in the Arctic air”
            You are aware that 52% of Inuit fifteen years of age and older smoke, and Inuit have the highest incidence of lung cancer in the *world*, right? No, didn’t think so.

        • Posted by Reality Check on

          I see what you are saying, generalizations miss the nuances within a group and create a false reality that ignores class differences, differences of opinion, differences in politics, etc, etc… no doubt about it.

  7. Posted by No Hockey on

    It’s bad enough not to have HNIC.
    Like, Kovid is not even up north and Inuit usually get better on Tilanol.

  8. Posted by Reki on

    Yet our schools are one of the few in the country still open and operating. They should be closed to be proactive for the virus.

    • Posted by iThink on

      I think that once the virus arrives that will happen immediately. Unfortunately our testing capacity seems practically nil. By the time we finally know community transmission will be well under way and vectoring up rapidly (my guess)

  9. Posted by Other places on

    Another place that we need to worry about is Canada Post.
    What precautions are they taking? Additionally, their are mass gatherings of people in both areas, but way worse in the Warehouse Baffin Gas area, because they don’t properly distribute the mail to both locations.
    I would like to know what plan they have, if any.

    • Posted by Observer on

      Ironically, our slow mail service is actually protective; a virus is unlikely to survive on packaging given the amount of time it takes to get here.

  10. Posted by Minimize the escorts to Ottawa on

    If, patience can walk, or Interpreter can take the patient to the plane, speak English well, can eat by it self. Does it need an Escort?. Even if, with the wheel chair, their are flight Attendance who can left the patient. The lest goes on and on. Escorts aren’t always honoring their jobs. Larga in Ottawa is over crowded all the time. Who in the world is looking after all of that mess?. Even, if going for cancer check up, can walk, speaks English well and they have cell phone. Many, many things things are for the taking if they have a chance. They are over doing way too much off that stuff.

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