Monday, December 06, 2010
WHAT IF THEY WERE WHITE PEOPLE
Northern Manitoba chief calls for help with killer flu
BY KEVIN ROLLASON AND BRUCE OWEN, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
WINNIPEG — Aboriginal leaders say the federal and provincial governments must step up efforts to battle a flu outbreak in Garden Hill First Nation that has already left two people dead and a third fighting for her life.
Northern Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper said the reserve has only one doctor for its 4,000 residents and ongoing problems with overcrowded housing and lack of running water are making a bad situation worse.
Harper said more than 20 people are being treated for flu at the reserve — including a three-year-old and five-year-old.
"(Provincial officials) are saying this is just a common flu, but when people are coughing up blood, this is not a regular flu," Harper said.
Chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Joel Kettner, said he believes the community has been hit by an outbreak of the seasonal flu — not the more serious H1N1 virus.
"That doesn't mean that it's not a serious illness or one that we can dismiss, but it does mean it's not a reason for panic or a feeling that this isn't something that we can prepare for, manage and deal with as we do with seasonal influenza," Kettner said.
The outbreak is the only one in the province, he said.
Kettner said both people who died had underlying medical problems. He said in a normal year, about 50 to 100 Manitobans die of an flu-related illness. Many are in poor health to begin with, including the elderly or those with chronic health conditions.
In remote communities with crowded housing and poor sanitation, such health problems as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, lung disease, substance abuse, kidney disease and poor nutrition are also prevalent.
Harper said a 35-year-old woman was the first victim about a week ago, while a man, also about 35, died Thursday. Another woman, whose age is not known, was airlifted to Winnipeg last week, where she is fighting for her life.
Kettner said additional physician services, provided through the Northern Medical Unit, have been sent to the community. "They're watching the situation very closely and will do everything they can to provide appropriate additional services as needed."
Kettner said he spoke to a physician in Island Lake who told him the situation was under "reasonable control" and that staff was able to deal with patient needs and demands.
Jeff Solmundson, a spokesman for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, said the federal government has been spending money at all Manitoba First Nations for water and waste-water systems, and housing.
More than $29 million was spent in Garden Hill on water and waste-water systems from April 2006 to March 2010, putting running water in some neighbourhoods.
"There's more work to be done, but progress and real commitments have been made to improve housing and water conditions at reserves, including in Manitoba," Solmundson said.
David Thomas, a spokesman for Health Canada, said the department has been in regular contact with First Nation leaders since the flu outbreak in Island.
"Health Canada will ensure that sufficient human resources and medical equipment are available in all health facilities," Thomas said in a statement.
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