Major health study 'by Inuit, for Inuit' set to get underway in Nunavik

Medical researchers on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Amundsen icebreaker will stop in the 14 Nunavik communities over the next several weeks, checking in on the health of 2,000 randomly selected residents.

Medical exams for 2,000 randomly-selected people follows up on 2004 study

A major health study in the Nunavik region is about to get underway. The tests will look at the overall health of residents, while checking for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and breathing problems. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A major health study for Inuit in Nunavik is about to get underway, nearly 15 years after the last study highlighted a number of health and food security issues for the people living there.  

Medical researchers on the Canadian Coast Guard's Amundsen icebreaker will stop in the 14 Nunavik communities in northern Quebec over the next several weeks, checking in on the health of 2,000 randomly selected residents. Half will be between the ages of 16-30, while the other group will be 30 and older.

"The survey is being done by Inuit, for Inuit," said Minnie Grey, the CEO of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

"We do have southern researchers, but we have a lot of Inuit participating as interviewers and assistants," she said.

Participants in the survey will be clinically tested for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. There will also be exams for dental health and lung health and blood, urine and stool samples will be taken for laboratory analysis, Grey explained.

If the tests show something is wrong with a participant, they'll see a doctor right away.

Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen will be heading to 14 communities in Nunavik for a health survey involving 2,000 participants. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Nunavik is often excluded from general health surveys in Quebec because of its remote location and the language barriers between researchers and Inuit residents, Grey said.

In 2004 the local health board commissioned the Qanuippitaa? — How are we? — survey. It found close to six out of 10 adults were overweight or obese, close to three quarters of the population smoked daily, and one in four individuals lacked food during the month prior to the survey.

It also found that in 2004, 12 per cent of Inuit in Nunavik had cardiovascular disease and five per cent had diabetes.  

This new survey, Qanuilirpitaa? — How are we now? — will revisit those questions and check up on how some of those participants are doing.

"Much has changed in the population in Nunavik," Grey said. "We would like to grasp the impact of these changes in our communities."  

The relationship between Inuit in Nunavik and the medical community has been difficult. In the 1950s and 1960s thousands were sent south for tuberculosis treatment. Some were never seen again.  

Maggie Hatuk, Mary Panegusiq, translators, and Johanna van der Woerd, nurse, aboard the C.D. Howe in 1958. Though people in Nunavik have sad memories associated with the C.D. Howe, health officials say people are willing to participate in this year's health survey. (Johanna Rabinowitz Fonds/Archives of HHS and McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences)
Grey grew up during that time and remembers people going aboard the C.D. Howe hospital ship for treatment. She says the community has been properly consulted and residents welcome the 2017 
Qanuilirpitaa? study

"Those were the days when the governments were in charge of the people and taking them away," she said. "We didn't have any forms of communication in those days."

"But today we can keep in touch with the internet, travel, we can keep in touch with southern Canada," she said. "In this day, this is not something people are worried about."  

The dates when the Amundsen icebreaker will visit each village will be posted on Facebook or on Qanuilirpitaa? posters in each community.