Nfld. & Labrador

TB elimination plan will have far-ranging benefits, says head of Inuit organization

The federal Indigenous services minister says the disease won't be effectively wiped out unless underlying issues, like access to housing, are addressed.

Framework released this week aims to wipe out disease by tackling underlying problems, like housing access

Health Minister Jane Philpott, left, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed, seen here in a file photo, say the new tuberculosis-elimination plan will tackle the underlying causes of the disease, like poverty. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

The president of Canada's national Inuit organization says the objectives in a tuberculosis-elimination strategy — including improving access to housing — will provide a wide-ranging boost in the north.

"Reducing poverty and reducing food insecurity, and having greater access to housing have a host of different benefits for our society," Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told CBC's Labrador Morning this week.

On Monday, ITK and the federal government released a framework to wipe out tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat — comprising 53 communities of Indigenous people across Canada's north — where TB rates are many times higher than the Canadian average.

Just this year in Nain, at least 50 people have been treated with either suspected, confirmed or latent cases of TB.

Details on how each of the four Nunangat regions, including Labrador's Nunatsiavut, will tackle the framework's six objectives have not been released. Obed said this week's framework is an interim step, ahead of the specific action plans from each region, expected in March, but work has been ongoing for almost a decade already.

"We have been successful in getting funding for increased housing investment from the federal government. We're in the second year now of a rollout of 10-year housing funds in three of our four regions," he said.

"We know that that is not necessarily enough, but it is a good start and we are pleased with the progress to date," he said. "We know that we're going to need more specific investments, but we are setting the foundation for those investments."

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said tuberculosis won't be effectively eliminated without addressing underlying issues.

"One of the most pressing ones is, of course, housing. We know that the rates of overcrowding are extremely high across Inuit Nunangat, and we have been working — along with ITK — on a housing strategy that will look to the long-term needs to be able to close the gap in housing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning