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Canada Bands Together Against Northern TB Scourge

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Nunavut’s tuberculosis rate is 62 times the national average, according to CBC News, with more than 100 active cases diagnosed in 2010, up from 58 in 2008.

This record-breaking year had territorial, federal and health officials calling TB the territory’s most pressing public health issue, and on Jan. 13 the federal government stepped in and announced $800,000 for a public outreach, education, diagnosis and treatment program.

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

The Nunavut program is called Taima TB, which means “Stop TB” in Inuktitut, and is a partnership of several entities, including the territorial minister of health, Inuit leaders and people from academia and the community.

“By providing financial support to the Taima TB project, we are partnering with the people of Nunavut to combat this deadly but curable disease,” said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq at the press briefing in Iqaluit.

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Though part of a push to address respiratory illness in Canadians in general, the initiative focuses on those at high risk of developing the disease. First Nations people in general have a higher rate than the rest of the population, but northern climes have the worse statistics in the nation.

Under the program, health workers will go door to door to diagnose and treat latent TB infections, which show no symptoms and aren’t yet contagious, and advise people on how to manage the disease. They will also educate the public via meetings, focus groups and social media to help people prevent the potentially fatal infection.

Partners include Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez, a consultant respirologist for Nunavut who is affiliated with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute at the University of Ottawa; Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claims advocacy arm of the Inuit; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national advocacy organization; the National Aboriginal Health Organization, and the New Brunswick Lung Association.

“The Government of Canada’s financial support for Taima TB represents an important step forward for Nunavut in our continuing efforts to address the serious problem of TB and to achieve improved health care and quality of life for our citizens,” stated Nunavut Health and Social Services Minister Tagak Curley in a press release.

Since 2006, the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed the National Lung Health Framework, a “strategic action plan” whose goal is to improve respiratory health. The government also set aside $10 million to combat respiratory diseases in Canadians. Taima TB is part of that effort, the CBC said.