Whale Cove is 2nd Nunavut community to get mobile tuberculosis screening clinic

The community-wide screening for tuberculosis in Whale Cove will start at the end of October, more than six months after the pilot screening in the Nunavut community of Qikiqtarjuaq wrapped up.

Screening starts Oct. 22, with 15 health professionals flying in to help

Whale Cove will be the second Nunavut community to receive the roving tuberculosis clinic that first visited Qikiqtarjuaq. (Travis Burke/CBC)

A community-wide screening clinic for tuberculosis in Whale Cove, Nunavut, will start at the end of October, more than six months after the pilot screening in Qikiqtarjuaq wrapped up.

"It's a reality in Nunavut, and the more people that go in and get tested, the more we can identify cases, latent cases, active cases, to help us in our overall goal of eradicating this disease," said George Hickes, Nunavut's health minister.

Pat Angnakak, Nunavut's health minister at the time of the first clinic, said the government needed to take time to evaluate what lessons it learned in Qikiqtarjuaq .

Hickes said the government learned the importance of identifying latent tuberculosis.

The government will also slightly alter its communications plan for Whale Cove, said Hickes, as it heard from Qikiqtarjuaq residents they experienced stigma because their community was the first to receive the screening.

However, Hickes said it should not be seen as a negative thing that Whale Cove has been chosen for the screening. Tuberculosis is active in 17 Nunavut communities, and the messaging should not be directed just to Whale Cove residents, he said.

Newer, faster drug treatments will also help combat stigma, Hickes said, as they reduce the treatment time from nine to three months.

George Hickes is Nunavut's Minister of Health. (Nick Murray/CBC)

43 active cases in 2018

Nunavut has had around 43 active cases of tuberculosis since the beginning of the year, according to the latest government numbers. That's a more than 50 per cent drop from 2017's 100 cases.

However, rates are still high. If Nunavut was a country, it would be ranked 30th in the world for tuberculosis levels, in between the rates of Somalia and Madagascar.

People will be invited household by household to get screened in Whale Cove.

Residents will hear more specifics about the visiting clinic on local radio in the coming weeks, Hickes said, adding the community-by-community approach will hopefully help Canada reach its goal of eliminating the disease in Inuit Nunangat by 2030.

"This is only the second one," Hickes said. "We've learned a lot from our Qikiqtarjuaq project, but we're going to learn more from this one as well."

The first clinic cost nearly $1 million. Hickes said he expects the clinic in Whale Cove to cost slightly less. The community has a population of around 500 and the clinic is supposed to run for about five weeks, starting Oct. 22.

Fifteen health professionals will be flying into the community to help with the screening.

UN meets on tuberculosis

Thursday's announcement of the Whale Cove clinic came as the United Nations held its first-ever meeting on tuberculosis, the world's deadliest infectious disease.

Jane Philpott, Canada's minister of Indigenous services, shared her presentation time with Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., so she could speak about Inuit's struggle with the disease.

Natan Obed, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president, left, Jane Philpott, Canada's minister of Indigenous services, and Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., represent Canada at the United Nations in New York. (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami)

"I think it's important when we're talking about tuberculosis that we recognize that there are so many different factors that contribute to why we have a high rate of tuberculosis," Kotierk told the CBC, mentioning social determinants such as Nunavut's housing shortage, food insecurity and lack of mental health facilities.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, attended the meetings as well. He said Canada being "vulnerable" on the world stage is a good sign. It will help hold Canada accountable on its promise to eradicate the disease, and creates an opportunity for Canada to learn from developing nations' strategies to combat tuberculosis.

Each of the four Inuit Nunangat regions is expected to come up with a regional action plan on tuberculosis by March.

With files from Nick Murray, Pauline Pemik, Qavavao Peter