Northern Manitoba not in 'chaos' over swine flu: minister


Specializes in Psych, M/S, Ortho, Float.. Has 12 years experience.

Aboriginal communities in northern Manitoba, hard hit by swine flu, are receiving adequate supplies and the situation is under control, the province's health minister said on Friday following a visit.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald, along with Dr. Joel Kettner, the chief medical officer, visited St. Theresa Point, an isolated community about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Many in the community are sick with flu-like symptoms.

"The medical personnel there are second to none. They're working very hard and they're keeping people calm," Oswald told reporters. "It is not a situation of chaos. It's a situation of control, of calm and of care, and this was very encouraging to me."

As of Friday, there were 31 Manitobans in hospital on ventilators due to the H1N1 virus. Two-thirds are aboriginal, health officials said.

Oswald said additional medical personnel, two doctors and two nurses, have volunteered to head to the northern area in the coming days. She said more health-care workers are needed and was optimistic that more would soon come forward.

Oswald said that in terms of supplies, "they're OK right now" and that she has seen them "on the ground with my own eyes-masks, protective materials."

But there are requests for things like hand sanitizer, particularly in homes without running water, Oswald said. She said she saw a lot of people using hand sanitizer, even though people are seeking more.

On Friday, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says it would fast-track the licensing and registration of doctors coming from elsewhere to help.

Oswald cautioned that they must continue to be vigilant, but that, "I do have a sense that people are being cared for very well there and that our partnership with the federal government is working and is going to continue to work."

Yet Chief David Harper of the nearby Garden Hill First Nation said his community is short of everything.

He said he just ordered $12,000 worth of equipment-mostly face masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

The shipments will arrive in Winnipeg this weekend and will be flown to his community on Monday.

"If we were gonna stop the spread of the disease, we should've acted right away, not two weeks later, three weeks later," Harper said. "The fact that there's no supplies here yet, it puts us in a place where we have no artillery to combat this disease."


Specializes in Psych, M/S, Ortho, Float.. Has 12 years experience.

Having been around the block a couple of times in outbreak situations, I do get the impression that they really are on the edge of what they can cope with. I worked in a First Nations community about 10 years ago during flu season and they were having trouble then. I believe that we will all be overwhelmed at some point, but underserviced areas will be challenged the most. Most nursing stations in the North have no doctors and only a few nurses to care for the whole community.

indigo girl

Specializes in Too many to list.

We Must All Work Together

It is good to hear from a nurse that has been there. Some reports say situation under control, but others of course, do not. No one wants to minimize any real help that has been offered to those communties. We are just trying to understand what needs to be done.

Perhaps the article I have posted was written before supplies were already dropped off?

The global volunteer agency Doctors Without Borders says Canada can and should help its own First Nations struggling with Third

World conditions and an H1N1 health care crisis."I believe in Canada we have the capacity to respond to that," said Dr. Joanne Liu, the outgoing president of Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) Canada.

"Being a country of the G-8 and with all the resources we have here, it would be unfortunate if we are not able to co-ordinate ourselves and respond to the crisis," Liu said Friday.

"There was enough manpower to address it, even though the co-ordination was maybe lacking," said Liu.

Governments and agencies involved need to work together and make sure care is getting to the people in times of crisis, said Liu.

"We need to get our act together and do what is right for the First Nations people," said Liu. "That needs political leadership. It's a question of will."

When a tsunami swept through Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004, and killed more than 200,000 people, Ottawa responded with a relief effort totalling $425 million and included emergency teams consisting of doctors and soldiers who brought medicine and badly needed supplies.

But when the H1N1 virus struck the native communities of Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point, local officials point out Ottawa and Manitoba are unable to provide them with basic medical care like a full-time doctor and adequate hand sanitizers.

"It is important that Manitobans and the Canadian public understand the obstacles and hurdles First Nations are facing in accessing the basic health care services that many others take for granted," said Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"It's very frustrating," said Liu. Its volunteers enter conflict and disaster zones around the world. At times, they have to deal with duelling jurisdictions in order to take health care to the people caught in the middle, she said.

In Manitoba, the lack of federal and provincial response to the situation at Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point overshadowed the first anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology to Indian residential school survivors, Evans said.

"The H1N1 virus that is seriously impacting our communities today demonstrates that our communities and people continue to suffer in poor living conditions," Evans said Thursday. For nearly three years, aboriginal leaders have tried to work with federal officials to develop pandemic planning, but nothing happened until the H1N1 virus hit the northern community of St. Theresa Point over the past two weeks.

"We are on the verge of a full-scale pandemic and we are once again calling upon all levels of government, the minister of health and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, for immediate action," Evans said.

"We have no time for jurisdictional battles. We must all work together on this."

Systemic poverty issues like poor housing and access to decent medical care need to be quickly addressed, Evans said.

"The first wave of the pandemic demonstrates that poverty among our people make them very vulnerable."

There are signs some help is mobilizing for the remote communities. On Friday, Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat said the union has paved the way for Winnipeg Regional Health Authority nurses to volunteer to work at some of the understaffed northern nursing stations to give their colleagues a break.

Local pharmacy mogul Daren Jorgenson said he has been trying to send doctors to those communities for several years and has been repeatedly rebuffed by provincial and federal officials. "We have repeatedly requested for permission to have our physicians work in the nursing stations of these two communities for years now and have always been told no," Jorgenson said in an email distributed to the media Thursday.

(hat tip crofsblog)


Has 18 years experience.

I don't know how they fund First Nations peoples in the US but several things bother me about these postings.

Money is distributed by Indian Affairs to the bands. The bands want to decide how to spend their funds. Now, who's responsible for ordering the supplies? You can't expect the outpost nurses to forsee an epidemic and go requesting outbreak type quantities of hand sanitizer, masks, etc.

While these communties are isolated and it's not just a hop in the car and drive to WalMart location, people living there have to be responsible for their own needs. Hand sanitizer can be picked up at any convenience store, supermarket, general outpost. Did the local store owners stock up?


Specializes in Psych, M/S, Ortho, Float.. Has 12 years experience.


This is Canada. The problem is huge. I myself wonder why in the past months of press releases, smaller communities have not stocked up on the required items. The Goverments at all levels are saying that we are ready for this, but at the first hit, they all go down. So now they are trying to catch up on preparations that should have been done a month ago, a year ago, and even five years ago. Yes, there currently is a big demand for PPE, but this country went through SARS. The federal and provincial governments said that we would never be caught by surprise again and that hospitals and health agencies would start to stockpile these items starting right after SARS. We have been told that we are ready for anything. Apparently not.

I do have to wonder how we will really do. I work in psych now, but I did work acute care for 6 years, including a stint in the northwest. I'm not going to delude myself that we are ready.

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