Globe and Mail – A group of doctors is urging officials in Nunavut to offer an effective but costly drug to all Inuit babies living in remote communities in the territory to protect them against a respiratory virus that disproportionately leads to their hospitalization. But Nunavut’s chief medical officer disagrees, saying there isn’t enough evidence to support such an approach. Palivizumab, the only available prophylactic treatment for RSV, is currently given to infants in Canada who are considered at high risk of complications, such as those born prematurely or who have underlying heart or lung conditions. But it is not routinely administered in Nunavut to healthy Inuit infants who are born at full term.
For most people, symptoms of RSV infection are indistinguishable from the common cold, although an estimated 1 to 3 per cent of infants in developing countries experience complications requiring hospitalization. Inuit babies in Canada, however, have an exceptionally high rate of RSV complications. Among some Inuit communities on Baffin Island, as many as half to two-thirds of babies are hospitalized with lower respiratory lung infections, mostly owing to RSV, according to Anna Banerji, an expert on Indigenous and refugee health and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto who helped start the petition. Although it is not entirely understood why, experts believe Inuit infants are disproportionately affected because of a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including food insecurity and a lack of adequate housing arising from a history of forced settlement.