“Why should milk cost several times what it does in our big cities, and fresh fruit vegetables barely available? And yet pop and chips are almost the same cost? Health researchers need to get involved in looking at the health effects of social determinants interventions, such as housing and education and economic development."Why indeed? And why does it take an emergency likes this to draw attention to the grossly inadequate living conditions of Canadian citizens? Aboriginals are fearful that this virus will result in similarly devastating effects as the Spanish flu did nearly a century ago. Fears of a vaccine shortage are prompting aboriginal leaders to ask the government to prioritize medical assistance to First Nations communities, who worry that their communities will be the last to receive help in the event of a pandemic. The remoteness of many reserves coupled with the greater susceptibility to infection is an obvious recipe for disaster. In addition to this, the aboriginal population in Canada is young (50% below 25 years of age), an independent risk factor for the flu identified by the WHO and the Public Health Agency of Canada. When swine flu first affected aboriginal communities in this spring, many reserves did not receive adequate supplies of masks, hand sanitizers, and antivirals. Leaders are acting now in the hopes of preventing the same situation from occurring if there are flu outbreaks in the fall, a more dangerous time to become infected. Doctors are already being given rules to determine who should be treated first in the event that there are insufficient medical resources to treat a possible swine flu pandemic this fall, so the concerns voiced by aboriginal leaders are justified.
While other countries like Britain and the United States are preparing for the possible swine flu pandemic by offering explicit advice to people about what to do if they think they have contracted the virus, Canada’s Public Health Agency suggests that people talk to a health professional if they have flu-like symptoms and notes that antivirals are not currently being prescribed. The young aboriginal woman, Vanessa Bluebell, who died this week was given an inhaler and sent home from the hospital when she contacted a health professional, so this advice is questionable. H1N1 serves as a sad reminder of the inadequacy of our health care system as well as the extreme difficulties facing our First Nations, Inuit, and Metis populations. Hopefully the attention being brought to the issue by aboriginal leaders and health care providers will mobilize the government to act now.