From The Vancouver Sun, September 16, 2009
First Nations chiefs in northern Manitoba say Health Canada sent an ominous message to their reserves this week when dozens of body bags were included in shipments of medical supplies for H1N1 influenza.
At least four reserves in Manitoba reported they received body bags in shipments from Health Canada on Tuesday. The shipments also included hand sanitizer and face masks.
“This says to me they’ve given up,” said Garden Hill Chief David Harper.
Harper said Wasagamack First Nation counted at least 30 body bags in a shipment of supplies sent to the nursing station. God’s River received 20 of them.
Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point also had body bags in their supply shipments, but hadn’t counted them.
The Canadian government has attempted to diffuse the anger about this situation by suggesting that it was a miscommunication. But was it?
Back in June, First Nations people were hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic. The government’s response was not reassuring.
From Canada.com, June 24, 2009:
Manitoba’s First Nations chiefs have declared a state of emergency and are urging the provincial and federal governments to do the same over the swine-flu pandemic – a move intended to speed up efforts to stop the spread of the deadly virus on reserves.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said he and his fellow chiefs want to ensure government officials are fully aware of the devastating impact the swine flu, or H1N1 virus, is having in their communities.
“The governments need to step up,” Evans said at a news conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
“There is no plan in place. Nobody wants to accept responsibility for First Nations. There is very little combating the H1N1 pandemic. Our people are sick.”
In 1918, First Nations people were particularly likely to die. The conditions, then as now, favored spread of disease: large extended families living in close proximity, lack of access to running water and poor health care facilities. It is no surprise that the First Nations are getting hit hard again.
And First Nations leaders get it. They know what they have to do. From Canada.com, September 19, 2009:
A new case of the H1N1 virus in Manitoba has prompted the chief of a nearby First Nations reserve to prepare plans to isolate the community until its members can be vaccinated.
Chief Ken Chalmers of the Birdtail Sioux First Nation said he wants to isolate the community of 600 residents from the rest of the province, adding he’s fearful of the havoc the virus could cause if it gets established.
“We know we’re going to get some (H1N1) cases in our community but our plan is to do preventative work,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said the plan involves advising against travel in and out of the reserve and stockpiling enough food and medication until the entire community can be treated with the H1N1 vaccine.
Chalmers said there are 21 pregnant women in the community and 140 school-age children. Chalmers said he’s also considering closing the community school.
“We know the virus will spread quickly throughout the community if it gets into the school,” Chalmers said. “I don’t know why the school opened. We’re rolling the dice with our children.”
In 1918, the only effective method for avoiding infection and death was social distancing and instituting protective movement restrictions. We have Tamiflu and ventilators today, but depending on the Canadian government for access to those may not be wise. They don’t have enough for everyone. Hence, the Body Bags.
Until an effective vaccine is available, Chief Chalmer’s plan is the best option. It sure beats the Canadian government’s alternative.