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Terry Mercer

The Hon. Terry M. Mercer, D.C.L, B.A., C.F.R.E. Appointed to the Senate by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien in November 2003, Senator Terry M. Mercer represents the province of Nova Scotia and the Senatorial Division of Northend Halifax.

H1N1: without improved federal response, the worst is yet to come on reserves

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Published by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck on 30 June 2009

The Government of Manitoba has reported an estimated 458 cases of the H1N1 Influenza Virus. Of these, one third to one half of all cases of H1N1 in Manitoba involves First Nations yet they only compromise 10 percent of the provinces population.

As a result, on June 24, 2009, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Ron Evans, declared a state of emergency over the H1N1 Influenza Virus Pandemic. In Manitoba, the virus is spreading rampantly and quickly throughout many First Nations communities.

Many health experts predict this virus will impact heavily on First Nations by infecting communities in three to four waves, hitting individual communities at different times, eventually subsiding and resurfacing again in the fall. As a result, this will lead to serious life-threatening health complications and put our communities, our elders, our people and our children in great danger.

Not only is this worrisome, are First Nations prepared to handle this pandemic?

First Nations communities face a serious unfolding health crisis with limited health infrastructure and resources in place to manage the spread of this pandemic. But, this is more than a health crisis, it is a social disaster.

This is about the sad reality of First Nations people living in deplorable third world conditions manifested by poverty, no clean running water, overcrowded, moldy and poor ventilated homes, poor access to proper health services, and the crippling effects of poor health conditions such as chronic respiratory illnesses, lung disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity, etc.

These conditions will make it very difficult for First Nations communities to control an outbreak of infection which puts First Nations at a greater risk of contracting H1N1 and suffering from its life-threatening, devastating effects.

In Manitoba, First Nations Chiefs and Councils are hoping for a quicker response from the federal government in dealing with this pandemic. At this point in time, it is imperative that the health needs of First Nations people are addressed and respected. As it stands, First Nations leaders have initiated their own training sessions on management of the pandemic flu in their communities with no help from the federal government. This is unacceptable when we’re talking about the reality of life or death situations.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, it is estimated that the vast majority of confirmed cases have occurred in people between ages of five and 24 years. This is an alarming concern for First Nations people. Over 50 percent of our population is compromised of children and youth under the age of 25 years. In essence, preventative and protective measures must be put in place to help ensure the safety and health of our children.

First Nations must pressure governments to improve the social and economic conditions of our communities. In other words, a strong effort to develop a national action plan to combat poverty is desperately needed. It’s about time every First Nation community has access to clean drinking water, adequate housing, healthy living conditions, health services and resources, and safe communities. If these basic principles were implemented, First Nations people would be better equipped to handle this H1N1 pandemic.

However, one thing is evident the federal government is negligent in failing to protect the safety and well-being of our communities, our elders, our people and our children. When will it stop?

That being said, I fear the worst is yet to come.

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