Nunavut health problems most challenging in country, report says

Inuit face greater challenges in Nunavut's health-care system compared with any other Canadian province or territory, according to a report on Inuit health by land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Inuit face greater challenges in Nunavut's health-care system compared with any other Canadian province or territory, according to a report on Inuit health by land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

The report, which is part of NTI's annual survey on the state of Inuit culture and society, paints a grim picture of the way Nunavummiut treat themselves, as well as how they are treated by the territory's health-care system.

The report was tabled at the organization's annual general meeting last week in Cambridge Bay.

"Our social challenges are greater than any of the provinces and the territories put together," NTI president Paul Kaludjak told CBC News during the Cambridge Bay meeting.

Based on a number of sources, the NTI report states that Inuit trail other Canadians in key health indicators such as education and income.

It also found, among other things, that seven in 10 Inuit women smoke during pregnancy, and tuberculosis rates in Nunavut are 70 times higher than the national average.

To make matters worse, the Nunavut government lacks the capacity to deal with people's health-care needs, the report found. Many patients end up being transported out of the territory for treatment.

"It's not a Nunavut health-care system. It's really a referral system," said Natan Obed, the report's lead author.

"So you're referred and you're referred … and all of a sudden, you're in Edmonton or Ottawa or Winnipeg."

Fundamental change needed

The report calls for a number of fundamental changes to Nunavut's health-care system, from keeping better medical records to using more Inuit traditional knowledge in the health-care system.

It also recommends more competitive compensation for nurses, and for core funding for Inuit-run community health programs.

Kaludjak said NTI wants to work with the territorial government to get the highest value from Nunavut's health budget.

"I know we have extreme challenges in terms of trying to turn things around [for] the better," Kaludjak said.

"By talking about the difficulty, we can look for answers. We have to have a sense of hope and expectation towards that."

Delegates at the annual general meeting expressed optimism that with a premier and cabinet sworn in last week, and with Leona Aglukkaq as federal health minister — the first Inuk to hold that portfolio — that NTI's report and its recommendations will be seriously looked at.

The report has been submitted to Health Canada and to Nunavut's Department of Health and Social Services.