Tuberculosis elimination in Nunavut falls by wayside due to COVID-19

Pandemic has had “tremendous impact on our tuberculosis path forward,” says health minister

George Hickes, Nunavut’s health minister, said in the legislature on Tuesday, Oct. 27, that the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered efforts to eradicate tuberculosis in Nunavut. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Updated on Oct. 28 at 4:45 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put Nunavut’s efforts to eradicate tuberculosis on the backburner.

Nunavut’s health minister, George Hickes, said on Tuesday, Oct. 27, in the legislative assembly that the pandemic has had “a tremendous impact on our tuberculosis path forward.”

In 2018, the federal government committed $27.5 million over five years to eliminating the disease in Inuit Nunangat by 2030.

The most recent data the Government of Nunavut will provide on TB cases in Nunavut is from 2018, when the territory saw 57 infections. There were 101 infections in 2017 and 53 in 2016.

TB occurs at a rate roughly 50 times higher in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada.

Hickes said that meetings and training opportunities for staff have been delayed since March, and the territorial TB committee hasn’t met face-to-face since last January.

“They do have monthly meetings, but it is challenging to co-ordinate a fulsome response to tuberculosis across the territory when all our stakeholders aren’t able to meet face-to-face on a regular basis,” Hickes said.

The plan to eliminate TB includes more prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment. Screening has taken place in three communities: Whale Cove, Qikiqtarjuaq and Kinngait.

“Discussions are on hold for any community-wide screenings right now,” Hickes said. “It would be ill-advised under the current COVID-19 restrictions.”

Hickes said in an interview on Oct. 28 that community-wide screening isn’t necessary right now, anyway. “We’re still analyzing the results and the benefits and the impact that [the screenings] have had,” he said.

The issue was raised by John Main, the MLA representing Arviat North–Whale Cove. At the end of July the Nunavut government advised that there might be cases of TB at an Arviat daycare.

“After the notification happened, what has the Department of Health done in Arviat to investigate and fix this?” Main asked.

The source of the latent TB still hasn’t been identified, Hickes said. Latent means that a person is infected with the bacteria, but they don’t show symptoms. They’re not contagious.

Health officials are continuing to do contact tracing and testing in the community.

“It’s not the biggest surge we’ve ever seen, it’s not the smallest surge we’ve ever seen,” Hickes said.

Two or three TB nurses have been put in the community for the majority of the year, he said.

On Tuesday evening a regional communicable disease coordinator and experienced TB nurse flew from Iqaluit to Arviat to assist staff there, Hickes said.

They will help with contact tracing to build capacity in the community to address the surge.

Hickes said that although COVID-19 is hampering training and meeting in person, the clinical aspect to addressing TB on the ground is working as it did before the pandemic. There are TB nurses and coordinators in every community that help respond to outbreaks, he said.

“In a nutshell, I recognize the member has concerns that TB has fallen off the table, so to speak, due to COVID-19,” Hickes said to Main.

“But I can assure the member that, especially in Arviat, we have continued to work on contact tracing.”

Hickes also said that the Nunavut government is continuing to work with Health Canada and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to follow through on its plan to eliminate the disease.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Boy George on

    I just don’t understand why this government cannot get things done! We have been very lucky with the Covid-19 not getting into the communities, 14 day isolation at a great cost, but there is always a but, essential workers coming up here mixed with isolating passengers in the plane without getting tested first and afterwards it will be a matter of time.

    Back to TB, come on GN, get er done!

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Because all the people within the GN department of Health normally tasked with managing TB are currently trying to manage the Covid pandemic. So unless you know where the GN can magically conjure up the two dozen or so extra health practitioners needed to respond to TB, I would suggest that complaining will accomplish very little.

      • Posted by Jerry on

        That is a poor excuse, poor management, coordination. Just more excuses that we don’t need.

  2. Posted by Curious Minds on

    This makes no sense.
    The Minister of Health neeeds to explain.
    COVID-19 is not here in Nunavut. Yes, planning has been needed, but that should mostly have been done a long time ago. Nunavut is the envey of the world.
    Please explain why we could not continue getting rid of TB.
    We brought up over 1900 construction workers this summer without COVID-19. Why have we been unable to get rid of TB? Does it have anything to do with the perception in the department of Health that they are unlikely to get TB, but are suseptable to COVID?

  3. Posted by Peter on

    I have to agree with you two, something is not right with this picture, maybe they lost focus and just stopped working on TB?
    Distracted maybe? Maybe it’s just incompetence with a lot of work that the GN should be doing?
    Whatever the case may be, it sure does not look good on this Minister and the Government of Nunavut.
    On another note, it is interesting to see the numbers of construction/labourer workers coming to Nunavut, it would be interesting to see the actual numbers and cost to bring them up and the cost of it all when they leave Nunavut.
    Huge amount of money leaving Nunavut and the cost of not having Nunavumiut working in construction/labour and the effects of that.
    I don’t know if the GN keeps track of this kind of information?

    • Posted by Go figure on

      And the experienced TB nurse who flew to Arviat this week has her CSA ending end of November and so far there is no indication that her contract will be renewed. So, unless something happens quickly and someone in GN Health realizes this (as they should), Nunavut loses her and over a decade worth of her TB experience. Tell me how this course of action serves Nunavut in combatting TB.

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