Pharmacies need to print labels in Inuit languages, says Nunavut official

Nunavut’s languages commissioner wants to see pharmacies printing prescription labels in Inuit languages, saying they need to comply with the Inuit Language Protection Act.

'When I walk into stores I look for a translator to help me,' says unilingual elder

Unilingual elder Alicee Joamie relies on someone translating the directions for her English-only prescriptions. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

For unilingual Inuktitut speakers like Alicee Joamie, knowing when and how to take prescription drugs can be a dangerous guessing game.

Now, Nunavut's languages commissioner Sandra Inutiq wants to see pharmacies print prescription labels in Inuit languages such as Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, known collectively as Inuktut.

Nunavut’s languages commissioner, Sandra Inutiq, wants to see pharmacies printing prescriptions in Inuit languages. (CBC)

Inutiq told MLAs in the legislative assembly this week that the private sector, including pharmacies, need to be prepared to comply with the Inuit Language Protection Act. The act already obliges the public sector to offer essential services in Inuit languages, and once cabinet sets a date the private sector will also have to comply.

"There's inconsistencies in terms of how instructions are given to patients in communities or maybe at different times with interpreter-translators, so it could potentially put people at risk," Inutiq told CBC.

Joamie, a unilingual elder, takes four types of prescription drugs and does not understand the English-only labels and warnings on the box.

"When I walk into stores I look for a translator to help me with translation," she said in Inuktitut.

"I ask them when I need to take them and they tell me when, so that's how I've been taking my pills."

Alicee Joamie, a unilingual elder, takes four types of prescription drugs and does not understand the English-only labels and warnings on the box. (CBC)

Joamie also relies on her daughter or other family members to help, but she says that's not good enough.

Perry Hermanson, a pharmacist at Rankin Inlet's Sakku Drugs agrees.

"I think whatever you can do to increase patient awareness of what medication they're on and safety, that should be done," he said.

New software

Inutiq suggests that new software could be created to provide clear, consistent instructions on pharmaceutical labels, including dosage, warnings and drug interactions in Inuit languages.

"If you have instructions, or an item, [or] risks in English, the Inuktitut version would be there and a person could just print it," she says.

Inutiq admits it will be a challenge.

Before that can happen, Inuktut terminology will need to be created for thousands of pharmaceutical terms and instructions.

Inutiq recommends the minister of languages, the health department and pharmacies work together to come up with the terminology and determine software requirements.


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