New Brunswick

Nothing held back from public about unknown neurological disorder, says minister

New Brunswick’s health minister said nothing was held back from the public about an unknown neurological disease in the province, even though it wasn’t publicly acknowledged before Radio-Canada unveiled a leaked memo from the province.

Health minister said there's no new information to share with the public

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says she understands people are looking for answers but "the science must do its work." (Ed Hunter/CBC)

New Brunswick's health minister said nothing was held back from the public about an unknown neurological disease in the province, even though it wasn't publicly acknowledged before Radio-Canada unveiled a leaked memo from the province.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province was first made aware of the cluster of the unknown disease in December 2020 and the first draft of the case definition was made on January 29, 2021.

She said while the province has posted a website and struck up a group of experts to get to the bottom of the disease, she said there's still no more new information to release.

"There's not any more information than what we've already made public, because there is no more information," said Shephard. 

"This is a methodical process. The science must do its work."

Transparency

Green Party leader David Coon said there was information the province could've released earlier.

He said the first cases were thought to be CJD and linked to cataract surgery. 

This was publicized at the time but Coon said when the province determined there was no connection, there was no announcement.

He said this would have been an indication of an unknown neurological condition.

"Everyone, I think, felt like this has been addressed and we don't need to think about it again, but that wasn't the case at all," said Coon. 

"The transparency that was there when it was thought that health was dealing with CJD at the Moncton Hospital with the cataract surgeries, that transparency evaporated once the cluster became apparent."

Public Health concerns

Coon also believes Public Health has been disadvantaged by a Gallant era decision to move staff out of Public Health to other departments.

"Public Health had one hand tied behind its back in dealing with something like this, which may have environmental causes," said Coon.

"They've been hobbled and that's part of the problem."

This week on the political panel we talk about the mysterious brain disease being investigated in New Brunswick. Joining us: Minister of Health Dorothy Shephard, David Coon for the Green Party, Kris Austin for the People's Alliance Party and Keith Chiasson for the Liberals. 29:45

Shephard said she doesn't support Coon's interpretation.

"I don't necessarily agree that we've been hobbled by this," said Shephard 

"In fact, if we're looking at all areas as to what could particularly cause this, and I am not a clinician, but I'm going to think that maybe having someone from Public Health in the Department of Environment may be a very good thing."

Ottawa's role

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson said he would like to see the federal government play a bigger role in the investigation.

"The feds have the resources the province doesn't have," said Chiasson. 

But Shephard said she's not aware of anything the federal government could be doing that they aren't doing already.

"On the political side, I'd love to throw stuff at the federal government as much as I could, but I can't do that today because I don't have any indication that we're not being supported to the fullest extent," said Shephard.

People's Alliance leader Kris Austin said it's hard to determine if the feds should be providing more help, since there's been little clarity about what help they're providing now.

"I don't know to what level the federal government is involved, and I think that does need to be clarified," said Austin. 

"I think that's a fair question to ask, you know, how many federal health officials do we have on this?"

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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