Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 13, 2011 - 1:23 pm

Nunavut health officials to TB: “Taima”

Ottawa chips in $800,000 for tuberculosis fight

CHRIS WINDEYER
Federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq announces a new tuberculosis prevention program, Taima TB, while flanked by NTI president Cathy Towtongie, Ottawa physician Gonzalo Alvarez and Nunavut's health minister Tagak Curley. Otawa is spending $800,000 to help fund Taima TB. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)
Federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq announces a new tuberculosis prevention program, Taima TB, while flanked by NTI president Cathy Towtongie, Ottawa physician Gonzalo Alvarez and Nunavut's health minister Tagak Curley. Otawa is spending $800,000 to help fund Taima TB. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)

Nunavut public health officials are taking the battle against tuberculosis to the streets.

With an $800,000-federal grant in hand, Nunavut is launching Taima TB—Stop TB in Inuktitut—an ambitious combination of public education, social media outreach and door-to-door screening and treatment.

“TB is the disease that…has a profound impact on individuals in our communities,” said Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut’s MP and the federal health minister. “Our goal here is to stop the spread of TB in Nunavut.”

But the project will begin only in Iqaluit, even though 2010 was a bad year for TB in Nunavut, with a record number of active cases, hitting 102 by year’s end, Aglukkaq told a news conference in Iqaluit Jan. 12. Nearly half those cases were in Iqaluit.

“It’s an important public health issue that’s been lingering for far too long,” said Tagak Curley, Nunavut’s health minister.

Gonzalo Alvarez, a doctor with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who’s working with Nunavut on the program, said the territory’s rate of new cases is 50 times higher than the national average.

Taima TB aims to raise awareness about the disease through town hall meetings and social media like Facebook, while teams fan out across Iqaluit to help people with latent TB get treatment. The program will also boost screening for the disease and push treatment for people with active cases.

Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., urged Inuit to take part in Taima TB and promised NTI’s involvement will ensure the project is culturally appropriate.

“Inform the process,” Towtongie said. “Participate.”

Latent TB is contracted by people who come in contact with those who have active cases of TB. Alvarez said Taima TB will employ “contact tracing” to help health officials track down those who may have come in contact with active carriers.

Even so, Alvarez said eradicating TB is going to take years of sustained effort.

“The TB problem in Nunavut will not be fixed overnight,” he said.

But he said Taima TB’s approach was crafted with Nunavut’s dark history of tuberculosis treatment in mind. In the 1950s and 60s hundreds of Inuit were taken south for TB treatment. Many died far from home, or simply never returned North.

“It caused a lot of pain and heartache for the people,” Alvarez said. Aglukkaq added she has memories from her youth of people “leaving our communities and never coming back.”

But Taima TB has the backing of high-ranking Nunavut officials. 

“This shows the federal government’s willingness to combat a very serious public health (issue) in Nunavut,” Towtongie said.

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