Inuit communities can beat COVID-19 and tuberculosis

Written by
Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, Malcolm Ranta, Peter Saranchuk, Sheila Enook
Published on
May 14, 2023

On April 24, 2020, the Lancet Public Health published a Letter of Correspondence co-written by SeeChange and Ilisaqsivik. In this piece, we explain the critical importance of a community-based approach to COVID-19 in Inuit communities, which are uniquely vulnerable in this outbreak. Community leadership together with a coordinated public health approach are needed to eliminate tuberculosis in Nunavut. The same response is needed for COVID-19.

The original publication can be found here.

Inuit communities are at high risk for respiratory infections and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) because they are currently fighting another respiratory infection epidemic, tuberculosis. Inuit today are nearly 300 times more likely to get tuberculosis than any Canadian born, non-indigenous person.

COVID-19 has been reported in Inuit communities in Nunavik, Canada; however, no case of COVID-19 disease has been reported in Nunavut, Canada. But there is no room for complacency. In Clyde River, Nunavut, the community is already implementing emergency readiness plans for the control of COVID-19.

Communities in this area are reachable only by air, have very basic medical care facilities, and have insufficient COVID-19 testing available. If the virus that causes COVID-19 reaches Nunavut, it could have tragic consequences.

Defeating infectious diseases requires community-driven responses. Community leadership together with a coordinated public health approach are needed to eliminate tuberculosis in Nunavut. We need the same response for COVID-19. WHO has recognized the need for community-driven responses and encourages implementation of innovative people-centred approaches to tuberculosis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community organizations, such as Ilisaqsivik Society and SeeChange Initiative, have developed a unique collaborative model: a fundamentally community-first approach that provides control, space, and resources for community members to empower themselves to eliminate tuberculosis. It can do the same for COVID-19.

The model includes the development of emergency readiness plans (eg, sourcing hygiene materials for the community), the creation of radio and online platforms to share culturally appropriate material on COVID-19, the training of community members to share relevant health-care tasks (eg, telemedicine); and the promotion of surveys and mask-wearing.

Equipped with culturally appropriate information and ownership of the resources needed to tackle COVID-19 and tuberculosis, Inuit communities can protect and prepare their members.

Clyde River and other communities are leading the way in Nunavut. Elsewhere, communities that are given adequate resources and implement prevention and treatment strategies can win the fight against COVID-19 and tuberculosis.

Photo bySeeChange Initiative

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