Saskatchewan

Far northwest region in Sask. leads province in active cases

According to Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical health officer with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), rising case numbers are due to a few factors. 

'The current situation ... really exemplifies some of the vulnerabilities in the north': health officer

Vaccine rates in Saskatchewan's northwest region are far below provincial averages. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Saskatchewan's far northwest region currently leads the province in active case counts, with 83 as of Thursday. This region includes places like La Loche, Beauval and Meadow Lake. 

According to Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical health officer with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), rising case numbers are due to a few factors. 

"[Higher cases are] not unexpected when you have community displacement due to forest fires," he said. 

"That increases the risk of community transmission." 

The region — which has 23,926 vaccine-eligible people — has had low vaccine uptake percentage-wise. So far 11,967 have received first doses in the region, while 8,894 are fully vaccinated. That's 50 per cent of eligible people for first doses and 37 per cent fully vaccinated. 

Provincewide, 74 per cent of those 12 and up have received their first dose and 60 per cent of those 12 and up are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Ndubuka called vaccine hesitancy in the north "a huge challenge." He said there are some people you will never convince to get a vaccine.

Ndubuka said NITHA is battling misinformation on social media, along with hesitancy due to side effects of the vaccine.

NITHA and its partners, as well as community leadership and elders, are doing everything they can to get good, solid information to people. It is also translating resources into local language to help with the effort. Ndubuka said this work is gradually gaining momentum. 

Ndubuka said the vaccine supply is steady to the region, it's just a matter of creating demand. 

Premier Scott Moe took to Twitter Wednesday to encourage unvaccinated people in Saskatchewan to get their shot as well.

Dr. Ndubuka also said that some Indigenous folks have historical mistrust of the medical system. 

"That is also playing a role in what we're seeing at the moment," he said. 

Georgina Jolibois, mayor of La Loche, agreed with that. 

"People are hesitant. They say, 'We've been guinea pigs long enough,'" she said. "They're thinking, 'I will do my research, collect more data, and then I will decide.'"

Jolibois said the province lifting restrictions has also sent a message that everything is fine. She said people travelling more freely between provinces plays a role too. 

Jolibois said that La Loche has 16 active cases right now, per her weekly meeting with health officials. From day one, leadership in her community has been endorsing the vaccine and encouraging people to get it. 

Ndubuka said the hesitancy is not frustrating, but challenging. He said that if one person becomes fully vaccinated because of the awareness and information efforts, everything will be worth it. 

"The current situation in the far northwest really exemplifies some of the vulnerabilities in the north, particularly in regards to COVID response and other determinants of health," he said. 

"The pandemic has also provided us with an opportunity to again rethink how we approach Indigenous health, how we approach issues in the north."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter

Emily Pasiuk is a reporter for CBC Edmonton. She has filmed two documentaries, and reported in Saskatchewan before coming to Edmonton. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

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