Skip to main content

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor look on as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed addresses the media outside the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Oct. 5, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government unveiled Thursday a plan aimed at eliminating the sky high rate of tuberculosis among Canada's Inuit population.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced creation of a joint federal-Inuit task force to tackle the fact that the rate of TB among Inuit people is 270 times higher than the Canadian-born, non-Indigenous population.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said the federal government has never pledged — until now— a joint plan aimed at eliminating the disease.

Story continues below advertisement

"We've often said 'When is a crisis a crisis?"' Obed said. "For Inuit, this is a monumental step forward."

The task force will help ensure Inuit organizations and governments are on the same page with service delivery efforts in Inuit Nunangat — the Inuit homeland, he said.

Tuberculosis has been present among Inuit for more than a century, said Philpott, adding that political will, tremendous organization and resources will be required to tackle it.

"We know that there are teenagers, children and families affected all the time in Canada's Inuit Nunangat region," Philpott said.

The federal government says tuberculosis among Inuit in 2015 was more than 270 times higher than the rate in the non-Indigenous, Canadian-born population and Nunavut has the highest rate at 119.2 cases per 100,000 population.

Philpott also spoke Thursday of the case of Ileen Kooneeliusie, a 15-year-old Inuk girl who died in an Ottawa hospital with tuberculosis.

"We hear of the stories of an individual, it often makes those statistics become real," she said.

Story continues below advertisement

"When you hear the stories of a 15-year girl who died in this city in 2017 from tuberculosis, it awakens you to the very serious injustices that still exist."

Kooneeliusie's death clearly speaks to many of the challenges faced by Canada's Inuit who often have to overcome barriers, including geography, to access care, Philpott added.

"People have to overcome language barriers. There are severe shortages of nurses and other health professionals in the areas that are worst affected," she said.

"Now is the time to develop a very aggressive strategy to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit."

Ottawa has also vowed to take steps to address the painful history of Inuit who experienced relocations and mistreatment during the tuberculosis epidemic of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

"This is an essential part of the overarching work that we will be doing on tuberculosis elimination and it is also a central part in the reconciliation framework that must exist between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian government," Philpott said.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.