March 2, 2007

Floating health lab to tour Nunavut next two summers

Qanuippitali? Massive health survey will try to find out

JIM BELL

Look for it in your community: a massive health survey called “Qanuippitali” that researchers will conduct over the next two summers across Nunavut from aboard the Amundsen, the Canadian Coast Guard’s floating laboratory.

Organizers announced the $10.6 million study in Ottawa yesterday, as part of the Canadian launch for the International Polar Year.

Of that money, $6.4 million is for research costs and $4.2 million to cover ship time. The money comes from a $150 million fund that the federal government is spending on IPY research this year.
How’s your health? A $10.6 million health study to be conducted from the CGS Amundsen in 2007 and 2008 as part of the International Polar Year will help answer that question for Inuit in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Labrador. (FILE PHOTO)

Organizers say that although money is tight, they now have enough to do the survey - though they will likely need complementary funding to do follow-up work, such as analyzing data produced by the study.

“It’s full-speed ahead. We are preparing to meet and consult with as many groups and people as possible as we plan all the complex preparations to implement this survey,” said Elisapee Sheutiapik, the president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, who attended the Ottawa launch.

The NAM, the Government of Nunavut, and various Inuit organizations are sponsoring the study. It’s led by Dr. Grace Egeland of McGill University’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, and Dr. Kue Young of the University of Toronto.

Organizers say information produced by the study will help GN health officials prepare better health policies and programs for the future. To get accurate numbers, researchers must study at least 12 per cent of Nunavut’s population.

In August and September of 2007, researchers aboard the Amundsen will do the Baffin and Kivalliq regions, where they plan to survey 1,296 adults aged 18 or older and 375 children under the age of five.

They hope to start Aug. 10 in Sanikiluaq and finish Sept. 25 in Resolute Bay. An opening ceremony will likely be held when the Amundsen calls at Arviat between Aug. 17 and Aug. 20.

In 2008, researchers plan to survey 537 adults and 135 children in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories. They’ll plan to start in Kugluktuk on Aug. 28, 2008 and finish in Kugarruk on Sept. 23, 2008.

In October of 2008, the Amundsen will also call at five Inuit communities in the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador.

Adults will be surveyed on board, while children will be surveyed on land. But in Iqaluit, researchers will try to survey 154 adults on land and 154 adults on board the ship.

As for Nunavut’s only inland community, Baker Lake, organizers are still looking at options for travel there, because the Amundsen is not able make it through the shallow channels that lead to the community.

The Qanuippitali survey is similar to the 2004 Qanuippitaa health survey conducted in Nunavik’s 15 communities by Nunavik’s regional health board and UniversitÚ Laval. That summer, researchers aboard the Amundsen surveyed more than 1,800 Nunavik residents.

Inuit participants will be selected at random after agreements are signed with each municipal government. Organizers also say survey results will be kept confidential.

Interviewers will survey adult participants using questionnaires that will gather information on diet and lifestyle: things like medical history, mental well-being, physical activity, social support systems, tobacco and alcohol use, and how people feel about the state of their health.

They will also conduct physical examinations that will include measurements of height, weight, body fat, blood pressure and pulse. Researchers will analyze blood samples to gather information about diabetes, infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies and environmental contaminants.

Women will be surveyed for bone density and to find out if they get adequate nourishment while pregnant.

Children under five will get ear exams, eyes exams, bone strength exams and general medical surveys. Researchers will look at infant feeding, access to country food and the prevalence of RSV and otitis media ear infections. They’ll also take blood, saliva and hair samples to help measure vitamin deficiencies and the prevalence of infections.

The Qanuippitali survey will create some jobs for Inuit too, some aboard the Amundsen and some on land.

Organizers will need 14 research assistants and interpreters to help do the questionnaires and five interpreters to be hired from the communities. They’ll also hire one or two community members in each community to act as field research assistants to help explain the project. Each community member hired for this work will get an average of 21 days training.

They’ll also hire one interpreter in each community for three days. Survey organizers will also need contracted translators to produce written documents.

The ship’s crew will include six nurses licenced to work in Nunavut, four lab technicians, two ultrasound specialists and various co-ordinators and helpers.

Meanwhile, the IPY kicked off yesterday with an event at the Canadian Museum of Civilization attended by Jim Prentice, the northern affairs minister, and John Baird, the environment minister.

On the same day, IPY launch events took place in Whitehorse, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, the Far°e Islands, Norway, Finland, New Zealand and Antarctica.

This coming Tuesday, Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, will speak at a three-day meeting of Inuit organizations, bureaucrats and researchers to be held at Iqaluit’s Anglican parish hall.