North

'People are afraid to come near us': Stigma follows Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, residents after major TB screenings

Some residents of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, are saying they feel the effects of stigma, after screenings at a mobile tuberculosis clinic in the community.

'TB, people think is really easy to catch, but it isn't as easy as people think,' says clinic lead

Sarah Kooneeloosie says despite not having tuberculosis, she’s felt ostracized because she’s from Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Some residents of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, are saying they are feeling the effects of stigma after a mobile tuberculosis clinic has been set up in the community.

The clinic was a response after the territorial government estimated 10 per cent of the community of 600 people have active tuberculosis — the highest rate in Nunavut.

Sarah Kooneeloosie said despite not having tuberculosis, she's felt ostracized because she's from Qikiqtarjuaq.

Kooneeloosie was recently in Iqaluit. 

"I think some people are afraid to come near us just because we're from [Qikiqtarjuaq]. We all don't have TB and it's not nice to see those who are afraid to come near us," Kooneeloosie said in Inuktitut.

She said she was screened and tested negative for the disease, both back in December and again before her recent trip.

Christopher Nolan, who's running the clinic, said he could not comment on the number of active or latent cases discovered during the screenings for privacy reasons. (Travis Burke/CBC)

"It's sad to hear those stories of stigmatization," said Christopher Nolan, who's running the clinic in the community.

"No illness should have stigma attached to it and TB is an illness that's treatable and curable."  

Nolan said he is around the clinic all day and is not worried about contracting the disease himself.

"TB, people think is really easy to catch, but it isn't as easy as people think. So short contact with people is very, very, very low risk, so playing with kids in a playground, parents shouldn't be worried about that."

Half the population screened to date

Three weeks into the mobile clinic, around half of the community's population has been screened for the disease.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that spread through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or even talks, according to Health Canada. It usually attacks the lungs but can also affect the lymph nodes, kidneys, urinary tract and bones.

Symptoms can include a fever, sweating, loss of appetite, and coughing up phlegm or blood. Tuberculosis can lead to death if left untreated.

    Nolan said he could not comment on the number of active or latent cases discovered during the screenings for privacy reasons.

    The clinic is prioritizing bringing in families with young children, and it will continue to screen people until the entire community is screened.

    Nolan said he expects to screen all community members by the end of March.

    On Tuesday, the federal government announced in its 2018 budget that it'll spend $27.5 million over five years to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat.