The State of Inuit Public Health in Canada

Inuit health in Canada faces such unique challenges that it is crucial to incorporate distinct cultural, historical, geographic, environmental and socioeconomic factors into all public health activities. 

That's the finding of a new NCCIH report: State of the Knowledge: Inuit Public Health 2011. This synthesis of current knowledge identifies trends and gaps for the four northern Inuit regions (Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut) and in southern Canadian cities.

Report author Dr. Emilie Cameron builds on a comprehensive review of literature as well as interviews with key informants working across the four northern regions and in southern cities.

She draws attention to issues such as maternal health, diabetes, sexually transmitted disease infection rates, youth suicide, climate change and data gaps, while noting that "no single public health issue facing Inuit can be addressed in isolation."

As often noted in media reports, Inuit face some of the highest rates of lung cancer in the world, along with tuberculosis rates that are 185 times higher than for non-Aboriginal Canadians and suicide rates eleven times the national average (forty times the national average among young men in Nunavut). Food security is also a pressing issue, with one 2010 study finding more than two-thids of Inuit preschoolers live in food-insecure homes.

At the same time, Inuit strengths that can inform responses to such challenges include the fact that much of Inuit language and culture has been maintained. Educational attainment is also increasing and a land-based economy continues to support sustainable lives in home communities.

The report calls for holistic, culturally-sensitive initiatives to address complex and inter-generational public health problems, including Inuit-specific health indicators and the need to address underlying social, cultural and economic factors affecting the health of Inuit peoples.

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