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Health (18-24)

Tuberculosis screening clinic to open in Pangnirtung, Nunavut

September 14, 2023

Clinic will operate until Dec. 1 in community dealing with TB outbreak since 2021

Shot of the hamlet from above.
Pangnirtung is one of 3 communities in Nunavut currently experiencing an outbreak of Tuberculosis. The outbreak in Pangnirtung was declared by the territorial government in November 2021. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada )

CBC Indigenous: Nearly two years after the government of Nunavut declared a tuberculosis outbreak in Pangnirtung, a community-wide screening clinic will open in the community of 1,500. 

Jointly funded to an amount of up to $4 million by the federal and territorial governments and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the clinic will open this month and operate in the hamlet’s community hall until Dec. 1.

It was scheduled to open Wednesday but poor weather delayed the arrival of medical personnel. 

The goal is to identify both active and latent cases of the disease and offer treatment to people who are infected, said the acting chief public health officer for the territory, Jasmine Pawa. Officials also want to ensure that community members have a place to access information and to ask questions about transmission, testing, and treatment, she said.

A wide shot of the empty hall
The clinic will be housed in the community hall in Pangnirtung. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

The clinic will bring teams of approximately six to 12 medical professionals into the community on rotations, according to Victoria Blanchard, the acting territorial manager of tuberculosis programs for the government of Nunavut.

Those teams will include doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and laboratory technicians.

NTI told Radio-Canada in an email that it is providing a contribution agreement with the government of Nunavut worth $2.5 million toward the community-wide screening and is supporting the work in other ways, including by providing training to incoming nurses on cultural safety and the history of TB in Nunavut.

It is also hiring two community liaisons in Pangnirtung.

Territorial Health Minister John Main said the clinic will help to better respond to the outbreak but it’s not a miracle solution. 

Mayor criticizes lack of communication

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Main told Radio-Canada.

Radio-Canada paid a visit to Pangnirtung between Aug. 26 and 31, less than a month before the clinic’s scheduled opening date, but found no indication of its impending launch.

Hamlet Mayor Eric Lawlor said at the time that he was still waiting for confirmation of the exact dates it would be open and was concerned that it hadn’t been publicized.  Tuberculosis is a complicated topic in the community so communication is key, according to Lawlor.

head shot of Lawlor.
Pangnirtung Mayor Eric Lawlor said he was concerned that the opening dates of the clinic had not been publicized well in advance. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

Many residents there still live with trauma associated with the treatment of tuberculosis in the 1950s and ’60s when thousands of Inuit were sent to sanitoriums in the south and many didn’t return. 

Lawlor called the testing clinic a step in the right direction in dealing with the disease but said it doesn’t get at the root causes of the outbreak, which include overcrowding, food insecurity, poverty and limited access to health care. 

Pawa said the delay in notifying the community about the clinic was the result of summer vacations. “Logistically, getting some things arranged were maybe later than we might’ve hoped,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of work ongoing to prepare for the clinic.” 

Three communities facing outbreaks

Pangnirtung is one of three communities in Nunavut currently facing a tuberculosis outbreak. The others are Pond Inlet and Nuajaat. According to data from the government of Nunavut, one person in Pangnirtung was diagnosed with active TB and nine others were diagnosed with latent TB between May and August.

That brings to 40 in total the number of people who have been diagnosed with active TB since January, and to 187 the number diagnosed with latent TB since 2021.

That’s according to the most recent update from the Department of Health, which was released on Aug. 26. The Department of Health does not make public the number of tuberculosis cases in real time, and Lawlor said he would like to have a better overall picture of the outbreak. 

He’s been lobbying for a long time for more frequent and detailed updates, including the number of people who have recovered from the illness. 

The health minister told Radio-Canada that the publication of data is the object of constant discussions in his department, but officials want to strike a balance between transparency with the community and the protection of privacy.

Reported for Radio-Canada by Matisse Harvey. Adapted from French by Heather Kitching.