North

Iqaluit woman has to fly south for Crohn's disease drug

The IV drug treatment Anushka Nagji needs could be done locally at Qikiqtani General Hospital, but instead she's forced to fly to Ottawa every six to eight weeks and shoulder part of the travel expense.

Procedure could be done locally at Qikiqtani General Hospital, but it's not

Anushka Nagji needs an IV drug treatment for Crohn's disease every six to eight weeks. The treatment could be done locally at Qikiqtani General Hospital, but instead she's forced to fly to Ottawa and shoulder part of the travel expense. (CBC)

The IV drug treatment Anushka Nagji needs to treat Crohn's disease could be done locally at Qikiqtani General Hospital, but instead she's forced to fly to Ottawa every six to eight weeks and shoulder part of the travel expense.

Nagji says flare-ups of Crohn's disease, a chronic bowel disorder that causes malnourishment, diarrhea, vomiting and pain, disrupt her life.

She controls her symptoms by managing stress, watching what she eats and medication. She's now on one of the last medications available to her, an intravenously-administered drug called Remicade. 

"As long as I continue to take that, I can maintain a fair quality of life," she says.

Nagji needs the Remicade treatment every six to eight weeks. The procedure only takes about two and a half hours but she can only get it outside the territory. For her, that means paying part of the flight to Ottawa and paying out of pocket for a hotel and taxis. 

Dr. Sandy MacDonald, chief of staff of Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, says they just found out that the preparation of Remicade no longer requires a fume hood, meaning it can be administered at Qikiqtani hospital. (CBC)

"I don't want to travel every six to eight weeks," she says. "It exacerbates symptoms when I'm already experiencing symptoms close to my infusion date."

Nagji says she asked doctors and nurses in Iqaluit about why she could not receive the drug here, but says she didn't get any answers.

The Chief of Staff of Qikiqtani General Hospital says until recently Remicade needed to be prepared in a fume hood, which the hospital doesn't have.

"When you people asked the question, it made us do a bit of research and it turns out you don't need a fume hood to administer Remicade any more," said Dr. Sandy MacDonald.

MacDonald says that means Remicade could be delivered in Iqaluit if there's enough demand and if it saves money. But he says staff need to be trained and protocols put in place. 

Nagji says it's exciting to think she might one day get the treatment a short drive away from home instead of flying thousands of kilometres. 

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