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Editorial: Time to act on health

Nunavut has a myriad of health care issues, often far more severe and logistically challenging and expensive to deal with than anywhere else in the country.

As the years march on, Nunavummiut have only inched forward toward consistent and reliable health care when it should be an issue of national concern.

Even so much as getting a tooth pulled will result in a flight out of a community for treatment, where one hopes there is adequate lodging for Inuktitut-speaking patients. This only adds frustration to an already difficult process.

Drastic times can call for drastic measures, though. This was the case last May, when an Arviat man suffering from an infected tooth took things into his own hand and snowmobiled North to get it pulled.

Daniel Alagalak travelled roughly seven hours from Arviat to Rankin Inlet to get treatment from a dentist with the tools and know-how to remove the tooth.

In a way, this is an inspiring story about overcoming circumstances in a dire situation, but Alagalak only decided to make the trip after he was told that the government wouldn't cover his travel costs.

"I'm hoping that things will improve so that other people won't have to go what I had to go through," he told Kivalliq News in May of last year.

Complications from dental issues can be serious, especially when there is an infection. The fact that a man had to travel on the land in near white-out conditions for a whole day to get a tooth removed because it was the least expensive option indicates a failing in our system.

Northern Affairs minister Dan Vandal, the first federal minister granted a portfolio exclusive to the North, will be dipping his toe into Nunavut with his trip to Arviat this week. Now is the time to make concerns heard because the feds will need to pony-up to ensure the well-being of its citizens north of the Manitoba border.

MP Mumilaq Qaqqaq recently outlined to Nunavut News the priorities she will be highlighting to Vandal and included basic health care, among others.

"These are fundamental human rights that have been denied to us for far too long. The federal government needs to do better and I intend to keep fighting for Nunavut," she stated last week.

Minster Vandal is being asked to find solutions to long persistent problems, but he must make progress if his government is to gain any credibility and trust among Nunavummiut.

Funding streams may lay with the feds, but immediate solutions can be community based.
As Kivalliq News editor Darrell Greer has pointed out in a column Jan. 29, while referring to comments made by former Arctic College president Mike Shouldice, an announced elder's health-care facility would provide high paying jobs in the community and Inuktitut-speaking folks to take care of elders.

More community health centres could provide preventive treatment so health issues can be nixed before they require costly trips south.

If the Nunavut Arctic College continues to run programs that train individuals to provide health care in communities and more workers are trained in communities. An investment now may create savings in the future.

There is a competition for needs in the North, but health care and our ability as Canadians to care for our sick and vulnerable must be at the top of the list. Nunavummiut have waited long enough to receive the health care other Canadians take for granted.