80 out of 600 people screened for tuberculosis at mobile health clinic in Qikiqtarjuaq

At the mobile tuberculosis clinic in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, screening patients for the disease is going well, and officials who visited last week are pleased with its progress.

'It's been heartbreaking to watch sometimes,' says Mayor Mary Killiktee

In the clinic’s first week it screened 80 people, with a goal to screen every person in the community of 600. (Travis Burke/CBC)

At the mobile tuberculosis clinic in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, screening patients for the disease is going well, and officials who visited last week are pleased with its progress. 

In the clinic's first week it screened 80 people, with a goal to screen every person in the community of 600.

The community has a tuberculosis rate of 10 per cent. The hamlet's mayor, Mary Killiktee, says some families were tapped for the first round of screening.

"It's been heartbreaking to watch sometimes, you know, seeing families especially with little ones," she said.

"But it's good to see that they are not refusing to come in."

Last week, the heads of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, as well as Nunavut's premier and health minister were given a tour of the clinic.

Mary Killiktee, the mayor of Qikiqtarjuaq, says she's pleased with the passion of the clinic team. (Travis Burke/CBC)

They said the clinic is a good first step in the fight against tuberculosis, which also needs to involve addressing overcrowded housing, poverty and food insecurity. 

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that spread through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or even talks, according to Health Canada. It usually attacks the lungs but can also affect the lymph nodes, kidneys, urinary tract and bones.

Symptoms can include a fever, sweating, loss of appetite, and coughing up phlegm or blood. Tuberculosis can lead to death if left untreated.

The germ can hang in the air for several hours, so tuberculosis spreads well in poorly ventilated, overcrowded homes, which are prevalent in the territory.

"Certainly our goal is to eradicate TB," Premier Paul Quassa said.

"It is curable. With the support of the community and the people, it is so possible."

Team is passionate

The clinic had a few technical difficulties during setup — the computers didn't connect and the X-ray machines had some trouble during assembly — but overall it's running smoothly.

Killiktee says she's impressed by the passion of the team who set up the clinic.

But the deputy chief medical officer of health in Nunavut, Michael Patterson, says housing them all in the small community has been a headache.

"We have 12 to 14 new staff at any time in town to work on this project and finding space, beds for them at any one time is probably our single biggest challenge," he said.

Patterson says Inuktitut interpretation has also been a challenge. The clinic has interpreters on staff, but cross-cultural communication is always difficult.

The clinic is set to run another six to eight weeks in the community.

With files from Travis Burke