Inuit Renew Fight Against Tuberculosis as Cases Increase


The Canadian government and the national inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) are banding together to renew the fight against tuberculosis in the north with increased outreach, new equipment and a worldwide campaign.

Building on last year’s program Taima TB (Inuktitut for Stop TB), whose goals are to encourage quick, inexpensive, low-tech testing along with faster treatment and a vaccine that would lead to a TB-free world, ITK and the Canadian government announced the measures on Parliament Hill on World TB Day, March 24.

Canada’s federal government announced funding for two studies that would seek to learn more about turberculosis among the Inuit, an effort supported by all three political parties. The slogan of this year’s World TB Day was “Stop TB in my lifetime.”

Health Canada also rolled out an amped-up strategy to combat TB among on-reserve First Nations peoples in remote communities and those with a high rate of TB. The cornerstones of that are also increased community focus, geared toward people susceptible to TB, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, children and infants, and the chronically ill. The goal of that program is to “develop and strengthen partnerships at all levels of the health system to ensure those populations have seamless access to TB services and to address the underlying factors that influence the spread of TB,” Health Canada said in a press release.

Tuberculosis, ITK pointed out, is nearly nonexistent among non-aboriginals born in Canada, with one case per 100,000 measured in 2009. But TB rates among the Inuit “are similar to those seen in developing countries,” ITK said, approaching 200 cases per 100,000, with no sign of slowing.

The studies will be funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and are designed to build on Taima TB, which was a pilot project, Health Canada said. The studies will expand the tuberculosis awareness campaign and evaluate new diagnostic equipment acquired by the Government of Nunavut that has been in stalled at the Qikiqtani General Hospital Laboratory. The Montreal Chest Institute will also pitch in, Health Canada said.

The issue of TB transmission goes beyond the disease itself, emphasized ITK, which represents the 55,000 Inuit living in Canada. In Inuit country, “significant health and social disparities” contribute to a higher rate than in the rest of the country, ITK said.

“Effectively treating TB means addressing the medical aspects of the disease as well as the social aspects,” said ITK Executive Director Udloriak Hanson in a statement. “It means addressing situations of overcrowded housing, poor ventilation and inadequate access to health care.”