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Nunavut public health act aims to track latent tuberculosis

More than three years after being passed in the legislature, a new law that governs public health in Nunavut is in effect. 

Disease reporting, water and food safety inspection among changes in new public health legislation

Dr. Jasmine Pawa is Nunavut's deputy chief medical officer of public health. Nunavut's new Public Health Act came into force on Jan. 1., years after it was passed in legislature in 2016. (Beth Brown/CBC)

More than three years after being passed in the legislature, a new law that governs public health in Nunavut is in effect. 

A territory-specific Public Health Act is came into force in Nunavut as of Jan. 1. The act replaces legislation from the Northwest Territories that dates to the 1950s. 

The new legislation was passed in 2016, but the Health department said it needed time to work out how the act would be administered, or put into practice, before it could bring updated regulations into force.

Even now, there are more policies and regulations to set up, said Dr. Jasmine Pawa, deputy chief public health officer for the government of Nunavut. That's related to changes in the new act for food and water safety.

It gives us the information and authority to take actions to stop outbreaks.- Jasmine Pawa, Nunavut deputy chief public health officer

"We're still working on the food and water safety regulations that deal a bit more with the inspection side," she said. "There's been lots of discussion around inspections and posting reports." 

Changes are meant to make the act reflect Inuit societal values, the department said. 

Pawa said that will mean that food safety and nutrition programs might talk about the environment and climate change, and how those impact health in Nunavut. 

More data for latent tuberculosis

The act will also change how disease is reported and controlled within Nunavut's health system, to help with disease prevention. 

"It gives us the information and authority to take actions to stop outbreaks," Pawa said.  

One example of that is how the department will now track cases of latent or sleeping tuberculosis (TB). That's the kind when a person doesn't show symptoms and isn't contagious.

"We were doing a better job of tracking the active TB cases, but now we have a better opportunity to also look at latent TB," said Pawa. "Knowing that TB is a really important issue across the territory, we wanted to make sure we were capturing the information we needed." 

That means health staff will keep files for patients who have tested positive for latent tuberculosis, and track trends for when and how patients come into contact with the disease. 

The act also changes the title of the chief medical officer of health to be called the chief public health officer. 

The lead doctor for the Nunavut government will submit a public health report to the legislature every two years. 

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