The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has declared a state of emergency in Manitoba First Nations over the swine flu pandemic.
Grand Chief Ron Evans said Wednesday the H1N1 influenza virus, also known as swine flu, is spreading rapidly through native communities. With supplies taking nearly a month to be delivered, Evans said First Nations people are at too much risk — especially when just getting hand sanitizer is a political and bureaucratic nightmare.
"Enough is enough," he said at a news conference Wednesday.
When the World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic on June 11, it should have triggered the release of government money to buy medicine, organize emergency services and step up the response, said Evans.
By declaring the state of emergency, First Nations can divert money from other programs to help fight the outbreak, he said.
But federal health officials said they aren't sure it's necessary to declare a state of emergency.
"We're already in a pandemic," said David Butler-Jones, the chief public health officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada. "We've been … in it for months now. We've been responding."
Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald said the province is already operating at its highest level of emergency response.
"We have been on incident command status since the end of April," Oswald said.
Although incident command status doesn't trigger a flow of new money, it does streamline some processes. If federal officials ask for medical supplies for First Nations communities, for example, the materials are sent immediately without questions about who will pay for them, she said.
The AMC is also urging the provincial and federal governments to ensure plans are in place to protect people when the fall flu season starts.
Health Canada delayed the delivery of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to some First Nations communities affected by swine flu due to concerns the alcohol content might be abused, Dr. Kim Barker, the senior public health adviser to the Assembly of First Nations, told a Senate committee Tuesday.
Barker said the incident was only one example of how measures used to contain the swine flu pandemic have been ill-suited to the social realities of some aboriginal communities that lack running water for hand washing.
Canada's First Nations communities have been hit hard by the H1N1 virus, but there is no consistent approach to the outbreak across the country, Barker told the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples.
She called for an independent task force to study flu outbreaks in First Nations communities and report back with recommendations for a seamless approach across the country before the fall.
An earlier version of the story misidentified Ron Evans in a photo.Jun 24, 2009 9:31 PM CT