Sol Mamakwa

Sol Mamakwa is the health director for the Shibogama First Nations Health Authority, based in Sioux Lookout, Ont. He says Health Canada and Ontario's Health Ministry need to address 'a jurisdictional black hole.' (Sol Mamakwa/Twitter)

First Nations people in northern Ontario have greater health concerns but receive less health care than people in the rest of Canada, according to several groups declaring a public health emergency on Wednesday.

"It is atrocious, the treatment of our people," said Sol Mamakwa, the health director for the Shibogama First Nations Council.

People in remote First Nations are routinely denied access to health care by Health Canada's non-insured health benefits program, Mamakwa said.

Mamakwa said Health Canada denied 17 of 22 children under seven access to a pediatrician, even though they were referred by a doctor because of developmental issues.

"That's just one example," Mamakwa said. "We need an investment and an intervention plan for the treatment of our people" from both Health Canada and Ontario's Ministry of Health.

In the last five years, cases of hepatitis C have increased to 200 from two in the First Nations north of Sioux Lookout, according to Mamakwa.

Alvin Fiddler,  Grand Chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aki Nation, declared a health and public health emergency on Wednesday. (Alvin Fiddler)

First Nations people live in a "jurisdictional black hole" and it's time to change that into "jurisdictional responsibility," he said.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Sioux Lookout Area Chiefs Committee on Health declared the public health and health emergency in Toronto.

Urgent and long-standing issues

The declaration is "to address urgent and long-standing health issues caused by the inequality of health and health-care services," according to a media advisory.

Among the recent health concerns in the area:

Rheumatic fever

People living in remote First Nations north of Sioux Lookout, Ont., are experiencing acute rheumatic fever at a rate that is among the highest in the world, according to new research from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Researchers identified eight cases of acute rheumatic fever among 25,000 patients in the region during a recent 18-month period ending in March 1, 2015. That marks an incidence rate of 21.3 per 100,000 or 75 times greater than the overall rate in Canada.

Invasive infections

Bad water and inadequate housing are leading to a "dramatic increase in invasive disease" in First Nations north of Sioux Lookout, according to research published in the Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine.

Northwestern Ontario, home to 10 remote First Nations that haven't had safe tap water in more than a decade, is seeing one of the highest rates of community-associated MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in Canada, the study said.

Limited access to health care

Health Canada provides health services on reserves. None of the First Nations north of Sioux Lookout have resident doctors and people rely on nursing stations for their primary health care.

An auditor general's report in 2015 showed only one of 45 nurses surveyed had completed the mandatory training courses and that nurses sometimes work outside their legislated scope of practice.

The report also found that Health Canada had not assessed the capacity of nursing stations to provide essential health services.