Friday, June 5, 2009

Feds slow to respond to First Nation pandemic planning: Manitoba

Feds slow to respond to First Nation pandemic planning: Manitoba

By Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free PressJune 4, 2009
The Manitoba government had offered Ottawa help with pandemic planning on First Nations 13 times since May 4 but was turned down every time until Wednesday — the day it was revealed that 12 residents of a remote northern reserve had been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald made the revelation Thursday as she expressed frustration at the federal government's response to the H1N1 flu outbreak when it comes to First Nations like St. Theresa Point, saying the province has been prevented from doing more because it doesn't have jurisdiction.

On Thursday, Ottawa asked for additional help with supplies and the province sent masks and antiviral medication to St. Theresa Point, about 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Oswald said the province had offered to provide antiviral medications for reserves repeatedly in the last month.

"It's the federal government's job to ask us if they need some (antivirals), and that's, of course, part of what we've been asking them 13 times," she said.

She said the province's stockpile includes enough of the medication for First Nations.

Meanwhile, St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall pleaded for understanding and tolerance for his swine-flu afflicted community on Thursday, saying that residents have been met with fear and paranoia.

So far just two confirmed cases of swine flu from remote, fly-in community located 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

However, there are 21 people from the reserve in hospital in Winnipeg and hundreds more in the community itself have registered with the nursing station as suffering from respiratory symptoms.

"Those are all pending confirmation if they are in fact infected by this (swine flu) virus," the chief said at a news conference.

He said members of his community were recently asked to leave at least one hotel over fears they could be sick.

"Just to be in the same room with me is not a death sentence for anybody," McDougall said, adding later: "As far as I'm concerned, there's no panic right now."

McDougall stressed there have been more confirmed cases in Winnipeg than in St. Theresa Point, a community of 3,200 people

McDougall said two of his own nieces are in critical condition at St. Boniface hospital in Winnipeg.

"There have been some frightening moments throughout the course of their treatment," he said.

He has said his community lacks the infrastructure to deal with a full-scale outbreak, and that a potential pandemic could spread quickly, since residents live in overcrowded homes.

Manitoba's health minister said Wednesday that province was asked to help find housing for family members coming to Winnipeg with sick loved ones because they were having difficulty finding hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, at least 100 students at a Regina elementary school are likely infected with the swine flu virus, said a top physician with the local health region.

One student from Massey School tested positive for the virus Thursday, but 150 students are out sick and most of those are expected to have the illness, according to Dr. Maurice Hennink, deputy medical health officer for the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.

"It's circulating in our community," he said. "We expect some more tests to come back positive."

Hennink said many of those infected might not take the test, meaning the 153 confirmed cases in the province do not provide a full picture.

The Manitoba government, federal health officials and First Nations leaders have met weekly since the swine flu outbreak began a month ago, to work on pandemic planning on First Nations.

In 2005, the Public Health Agency of Canada's report on pandemic planning outlined a number of outstanding issues related to preparing for an outbreak on reserves, including a lack of formal agreements dividing responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments for responding to health emergencies and the lack of pandemic plans on First Nations. The report also said there needed to be a clear protocol for ensuring the provinces' antiviral stockpiles were accounting for First Nations, and how First Nations could access the drugs when they were needed.

A spokeswoman for Health Canada said the department and Manitoba are close to an agreement on how to deal with pandemics on reserves. However, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq did not respond to the concern Oswald raised.

© Copyright (c) Winnipeg Free Press

Other posts on this topic:
June 10: No Doctors, No Nurses, but emergency hand sanitizer is on its way
June 6: If it isn't racism, what is it?
June 5: Feds slow to respond to First Nation pandemic planning: Manitoba
June 4: Another update H1N1
June 3:More on H1N1 at St. Theresa Point First Nation
June 2: Please follow this story. Please write to your MP


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