Swine flu plans on agenda as aboriginal leaders and premiers meet

REGINA — Aboriginal leaders say they’re encouraged by the response after turning to Canada’s premiers for help dealing with the swine flu outbreak.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

REGINA — Aboriginal leaders say they’re encouraged by the response after turning to Canada’s premiers for help dealing with the swine flu outbreak.

Leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and other groups talked about pandemic plans at a meeting with the premiers Wednesday in Regina.

“The H1N1, the pandemic that exists now is expected, particularly this fall, to surge and we’ve got to make sure that surge planning is in place,” said Shawn Atleo, the newly elected head of the Assembly of First Nations.

“We heard an expression from the premiers that there’s a shared notion that this must be done. We also share with the concern about the isolated northern communities, that we make sure that the necessary resources are there in advance, not just centralized in the urban settings.”

“We’ve got to make sure that communities have the resources to be full partners in planning.”

Atleo said the premiers recognize the need to ensure medical supplies and strategies to fight swine flu are available in remote areas.

Swine flu has hit some aboriginal communities particularly hard and leaders have pointed out that poor living conditions make people who live in them more vulnerable to the disease.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who hosted the meeting at the provincial legislature, said afterward that the premiers are “sensitive to the fact” that there are certain populations that seem more vulnerable than others when it comes to H1N1. Wall said every government is doing what it can.

“Almost every premier spoke up at this meeting and said, ’Here’s what we’re doing.’ It’s sort of uncharted waters for all of us,” said Wall.

“There is at least some agreement that the provinces have identified this as an issue and have a plan and are working with our respective First Nations and aboriginal peoples.”

Wall also said the premiers aren’t done discussing H1N1, adding that the issue will be added to the agenda when they meet Thursday.

Mary Simon, president of the national Inuit group, said health authorities across the country are working on battling the flu, though she didn’t know of a specific national plan to help aboriginals deal with the swine flu outbreak.

“I’m not aware of a specific plan for the Arctic or for Inuit at this point,” said Simon, who admits the issue is a big concern. “I’m not suggesting that there is no federal plan. I think the problem that we have in our community is that there is no public education going on or very little of it.”

In Manitoba for example, roughly two-thirds of the H1N1 cases that required hospital intensive care involved aboriginals. The situation will challenge officials going into the fall, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Doer said the gathering was the first chance the premiers have had to discuss the outbreak since it started in the spring.

“We have to prepare, I believe, as Canadian leaders … as if there is an H1N1 truck coming around the corner with serious implications for the health of many Canadians,” said Doer.

“I do believe having gone through the SARS issue that we’re way better equipped dealing with command and control and co-operation between the federal and provincial governments than we were with SARS, but I think we also have to prepare for an H1N1 truck coming around the corner with its huge pressures.”

The Native Women’s Association had a suggestion for the premiers.

Association president Beverley Jacobs said Wednesday that aboriginal women can play a key role in preparedness planning because they are the caregivers in families and communities.

“There has been very little discussion about how aboriginal women are directly impacted by the disease, also the role that they do play in preventing the spread of infection,” she said.

The meeting came as another death was reported in British Columbia from the H1N1 flu virus, pushing the total number of swine-flu deaths in Canada to 62.

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