Quicker, direct funding to battle COVID rolled out to Indigenous communities, organizations

Thursday, January 20th, 2022 4:19pm


Image Caption

Dr. Tom Wong and Minister Patty Hajdu.


“Indigenous communities, Indigenous people are most disadvantaged and they are most susceptible to the severe side-effects of Omicron and other variants of COVID-19.” — Dr. Tom Wong
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu announced $125 million in funding to flow directly to Indigenous communities and organizations to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the department’s top doctor expressed hope that the worse may be over.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that the Omicron (variant) wave may be flattening on reserves nationally if public health measures continue to be optimized,” said Dr. Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer of Public Health.

“Over this week we’ve been seeing signs of the number of active cases plateauing …. Right now as of yesterday, there’s a total of just over 5,000 active cases being reported on reserve,” he said.

Wong admitted that number is an underestimation as some people are not testing while others are home-testing and not reporting the results.

“However, day after day over the past week we are seeing the number of cases flattening at around 5,000 to 6,000 range and we are not seeing the increase on the number of new cases at this moment.”

But Wong stressed this wasn’t the time to relax strong public health measures considering the high rate of spread of this particular strain of COVID-19 and he encouraged more people to get the third vaccine or booster shot.

As of Jan. 18, Wong said more than one million doses of the vaccine had been administered in First Nations, Inuit and territorial communities, but only 20 per cent of adults have received the booster shot. More than 85 per cent of those 12 years and up had received a second dose of the vaccine. More than 40 per cent of children five to 11 years of age had received one dose of the vaccine.

Hajdu announced today that the $125 million of COVID-19 public health funding would flow directly to First Nations across the country to support their public health efforts.

“As communities continue to work to prevent new surges of COVID, including from the fast spreading Omicron variant, I’ve heard the call from chiefs and communities for faster access to financial resources, to prepare for outbreaks, implement additional public health measures and respond quickly to COVID-19 cases to prevent widespread infection,” said Hajdu.

There are already a handful of First Nations, including Attawapiskat, Bearskin Lake and Kashechewan in Ontario, and Cross Lake in Manitoba, that ISC has responded to in order to meet their specific requested needs.

The transfer of funding across the country will continue over the next couple of weeks to all First Nations, self-governing and modern treaty holders. It is being allocated using the Indigenous Community Support Fund methodology and includes an allocation to the First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia. The allocation and its temporary implementation criteria also include careful consideration of needs for remote and isolated First Nations, says the news release.

This funding can be used to support community surge capacity in response to COVID-19, which may include continued administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, implementation of rapid testing, surge infrastructure, surge staff and resources, food security to support self-isolation and supports to update, review and activate pandemic response plans, said Hajdu.

Patrick Boucher, senior assistant deputy minister of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB), said FNIHB teams were working on how to “push the money out into communities as quickly as possible to remove some of those barriers and to make sure they have the funds and resources necessary to respond as quickly as possible.”

The money will be going to over 400 communities and partners, with base funding of $25,000. Further allocations will be based on population, remoteness and community well-being, said Boucher.

“Communities will continue to have access to further needs-based public health based COVID-19 funding over and above this direct formula-based allocation and communities are encouraged to continue to come forward and work with us, if and when those needs arise,” he said.

Also added to the arsenal in the battle against COVID-19 is the new pill Paxlovid. Of the 30,000 treatment courses Canada will receive in the initial order, Wong said 1,300 will go to Indigenous communities. Remote and isolated communities with nursing stations are at particularly high risks of complications from COVID because of poor access to tertiary care so these communities will be prioritized for the initial supply of Paxlovid.

“Further discussions with provinces and territories, with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the communities (will happen) to actually expand the access as Canada gets the second shipment, the third shipment and more shipments,” said Wong.

Indigenous populations continue to be at a high risk as the coronavirus enters its third year and fifth wave.

Health disparities, colonization, multiple traumas, social determinants and overcrowded housing are reasons that contribute to the high number of Indigenous people contracting the disease, said Wong, and the 588 deaths since 2020.

“Indigenous communities, Indigenous people are most disadvantaged and they are most susceptible to the severe side-effects of Omicron and other variants of COVID-19,” he said.

Even though ISC is supplying Indigenous communities with personal protective equipment, handing out COVID tests, rolling out vaccines, and collaborating with the provinces and territories to provide services, Wong said what was being done was not enough.

“It is so important for us to understand that all the social determinants of health and the gaps in services, they must be addressed,” he said.

Hajdu said the impact COVID-19 was having on the Indigenous population was something that has been seen overtime with other diseases like tuberculosis. Rapid spread of these communicable diseases is exacerbated by overcrowded homes.

“From my perspective as minister of Indigenous Services, it’s my job to fight for Indigenous people and to fight to make sure the appropriate resources are in place so we more quickly can build the houses that Indigenous peoples need, to more safely accommodate people in communities and that’s exactly what I will be doing,” said Hajdu.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.