Canada Inuit want action on "catastrophic" TB rate

Wed Mar 10, 2010 2:46pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The rate of tuberculosis among Canada's 55,000 Arctic Inuit people is catastrophically high and much more must be done to combat the lung disease, activists said on Wednesday.

The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) organization, citing official data, said the tuberculosis rate for Inuit in 2008 was 185 times higher than for Canadian-born non-aboriginals.

Among the reasons are very poor housing conditions and the high cost of living in the Arctic, an enormous region where providing health care is costly and complicated.

The Inuit are part of Canada's 1.2 million native people, or First Nations, many of whom live in poverty. The tuberculosis rate among First Nations as a whole is 31 times that of the Canadian-born non-aboriginal population.

"It is unconscionable that these conditions exist in a country that boasts of having one of the lowest tuberculosis rates in the world," said Gail Turner, chair of the ITK's national health committee.

Canada's public health agency says 88 cases of tuberculosis were reported among the Inuit in 2008. A total of 1,600 people -- most of them foreign born -- were diagnosed with the disease in 2008 in Canada, which has a population of 33 million.

The squalid living conditions of the First Nations have long been an embarrassment for Canada, a member of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

Responsibility for health care is split between the federal government, which provides significant funding, and the 10 provinces and three territories, which administer care.   Continued...