The unfortunate shipments of body bags to aboriginal reserves in Manitoba, speaks to a larger communication problem between health authorities and at-risk aboriginal communities, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said Friday.
The body bags were included in a shipment of hand sanitizers and face masks that Health Canada recently sent to reserves that were hit hard by H1N1 flu last spring.
Health Canada has said it regrets the alarm that the shipments raised in Manitoba, though it contends the body bags were part of a routine restocking of supplies.
However, a departmental investigation into the incident is now underway and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the results will be made public.
Aboriginal authorities, as well as opposition members of Parliament have demanded that the health minister apologize for the shipments.
On Friday morning, AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo said Canada's aboriginal communities have had exemplary service from "fantastic" first responders and health workers during the swine flu epidemic so far.
But he said they need to be supported as the spread of the flu continues.
"First Nations need to be seen as a priority; secondly, we need much better communication and co-ordination," Atleo said when speaking to CTV's Canada AM from Vancouver. "And thirdly...this really does speak to the broader health issues that we face."
From what is known about the swine flu so far, First Nations communities are "much more vulnerable" to H1N1, Atleo said, with infected aboriginal persons being "15 per cent more likely to end up in intensive care units and in places like Manitoba, that goes as high as 63 per cent."
Atleo said his first reaction was "disbelief" when he learned about the body bags.
He said it's an example of the lack of joint communication and planning efforts that should be occurring between the federal government and First Nations communities, during the H1N1 crisis.
"I am calling on the minister (Aglukkaq) to work with First Nations in all jurisdictions for a much better joint communication and joint planning effort," he said.
Aglukkaq on Friday said the incident was "deeply regrettable" and she agreed that overall communication needs to be improved with aboriginal communities.
"The issues that Chief Atleo has just raised, I am in complete agreement that we need to communicate and build relationships with the communities as we deal with, not only the pandemic but also the with the delivery of health care down the road," Aglukkaq said from Ottawa, immediately following Atleo's appearance on Canada AM.
Aglukkaq said H1N1 vaccines "will be delivered to every community in this country early November," including in aboriginal communities.
Six cases on B.C. reserve
Meanwhile, the Ahousaht First Nation community in B.C. is dealing with six confirmed cases of H1N1 flu.
"They are mild cases and none of our members have been hospitalized," Curtis Dick, the deputy chief councilor of the Ahousaht First Nation, told CTV's Canada AM on Friday morning.
Dick said that Ahousaht residents only have access to health care professionals for part of each week.
"We only have them Monday to Thursday, and then from Friday, Saturday, Sunday on, we pretty much have to take care of our own, unless we have to transport them out of here by boat or airplane," he said.
Click to view image: 'Press'
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