National Inuit women's group calls for adequate birthing support in Nunavut after death of mother

The national organization for Inuit women says the recent death of a Nunavut mother highlights the need for adequate child birthing services in Nunavut.

Pauktuutit president says COVID-19 highlights inequities of reproductive care in the North

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, says midwife services are needed in Nunavut communities. (Eye on the Arctic)

The national organization for Inuit women says the recent death of a mother from Sanikiluaq highlights the need for adequate child birthing services in Nunavut. 

Silatik Qavvik died in a Winnipeg hospital on Sunday, having spent a month on breathing support. The 35-year-old mother of five tested positive for COVID-19 after undergoing a C-section to deliver her infant daughter.

Iqaluit is the only community where women can give birth in Nunavut. Many women like Qavvik travel from their remote communities to give birth in southern hospitals.

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada says a lack of medical and culturally safe maternal care in the North shows disregard for the reproductive rights of Inuit women. 

"This is another tragic death because of the need for midwifery, especially now during COVID-19. We don't have midwifery services in every community in the North so women have to travel south to give birth," said Pauktuutit president Rebecca Kudloo. 

Qavvik's family posted regular updates on social media while she was on a ventilator, asking for prayers and support.

Her father, the mayor of Sanikiluaq, said he needed others to know how dangerous COVID-19 could be. 

We don't have the same services as women in other provinces have access to, up here,- Rebecca Kudloo, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada president

Watching this unfold, Kudloo says she is worried for her own granddaughter who was in Winnipeg at the same time to deliver a baby. 

Kudloo is looking after the granddaughter's young son. She said the travel puts stress on families. 

Access to standard healthcare is an issue of dignity for Inuit mothers, she said.

"We don't have the same services as women in other provinces have access to, up here," said Kudloo, who lives in Baker Lake. 

Sanikiluaq's Silatik Qavvik died in Winnipeg on Jan. 3. She tested positive for COVID-19 after giving birth, and spent a month on a ventilator. (Submitted by Johnnie Cookie)

When a birthing centre in Rankin Inlet closed in August 2020, the Nunavut government said it would be bringing more services to Iqaluit so fewer women needed to travel out of territory for regular deliveries.

Kudloo says in recent generations she has seen a positive change in how Nunavut mothers advocate for themselves in the healthcare system. From older Inuit, she has heard stories of mothers being discriminated against, or poorly informed, while travelling for childbirth.

One elder told Kudloo that while in a southern province to deliver a baby, she was told she had too many children, and wasn't allowed to have anymore. 

It was only a few years ago, in 2017, that the Canadian government began paying for escorts for expectant Nunavut mothers — a partner, relative or friend — so they didn't have to give birth alone while travelling away from home. 

Premier Joe Savikataaq and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson greet the first boxes of vaccines to arrive in Nunavut. The territory says expectant mothers can choose to be vaccinated. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Vaccination an option for pregnant Nunavut women 

As a vaccine is being distributed in Nunavut, it will be up to expectant mothers to decide if they want to be vaccinated, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said on Tuesday.

Pregnant women were not included in vaccine trials, but some national Health specialists say women with high risk pregnancies could benefit from the vaccine. 

Two obstetric associations in Ontario issued a statement on Tuesday urging the province to make COVID-19 vaccination accessible to at-risk women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

The Nunavut government says it won't say no to mothers who want to be vaccinated. 

"For pregnant women, it's going to have to be very much an individualized decision," Patterson said. 

Province, territory at odds over who will report deaths 

While Qavvik's family grieve, the territory is working to decide how to report the deaths of Nunavummiut who caught COVID-19 in the South, Patterson said. 

"With all deaths the question is really ensuring that they are properly reported into the federal data system so that not only are deaths not lost, but they are not reported more than once," Patterson said.

The Nunavut government says five residents have died after contracting COVID-19. Only one of those residents caught the virus in Nunavut, the only one the territory is reporting in its COVID-19 death count. 

Premier Joe Savikataaq said he expects the deaths of residents who contracted the virus elsewhere, like Qavvik, will be counted by other governments. 

But, in a statement, the Manitoba government said it doesn't count the deaths of non-residents. 

"Out-of-province cases, including deaths, are not included in our data reporting and would be reported by the jurisdiction of residence," a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said in an email on Tuesday.