Ear infections too common in Inuit children: pediatrician

A doctor who treats children in Nunavik says ear infections were rare before Inuit were settled into communities. Dr. Joanne Morel, a pediatrician based at the Montreal Children's Hospital, has been treating children in James Bay and Nunavut for 35 years.

More than 80 doctors and health officials gather in Iqaluit for Challenges in Infectious Diseases conference

Dr. Johanne Morel says one fifth of Inuit children suffer from otitis media, an ear infection that causes hearing loss. (CBC)

A doctor who treats Inuit children in Nunavik says ear infections were rare before Inuit were settled into communities and she's calling for the creation of a circumpolar group to examine the issue.

Dr. Johanne Morel, a pediatrician based at the Montreal Children's Hospital, has been treating children in James Bay and Nunavik for 35 years. 

She spoke at an infectious disease conference in Iqaluit this weekend about a middle ear infection called otitis media that causes hearing loss in 20 per cent of Inuit children in Nunavik. 

Otitis media is rare and easily treatable in the south, but Morel says Inuit children get it earlier and more frequently. 

She says doctors who travelled through the Eastern Arctic in the 1970s documented elders who had normal ear drums with no tears or perforations. 

"The elders said their own children didn't have draining ears when they were small, but children in 1970 had a lot of perforated ear drums. So something happened then and we don't know what it is," she says. 

Morel says some factors could be a change in diet and using a bottle instead of breastfeeding.

"In spite of improved access to medical care, in spite of campaigns to decrease smoking, in spite of campaigns to improve housing, in spite of a lot of antibiotic treatment ... it's just not changing," she says. 

Morel says Inuit children in Greenland and Alaska are also affected by otitis media. 

Conference brings together doctors from Inuit regions

More than 80 doctors and other health officials from Nunavut, Nunavik and beyond are in Iqaluit for the Challenges in Infectious Diseases conference.

Organizers hope to develop closer ties between the two regions.

Dr. Gabriel Fortin, president of the organizing committee, says resources are limited so collaboration is essential. 

Workshops and discussions focused on illnesses such as tuberculosis, sexual transmitted infections and respiratory infections.

The conference wraps up on Monday.


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