Lack of medical services, housing, clean water on reserve leaves First Nations more susceptible to a pandemic

Xavier use

By Xavier Kataquapit

I have had a few very bad flu bouts over the past few years and, come to think of it, almost once a year for the past 10 years. Some of these respiratory issues were probably colds, but most of them were flus due to viruses.

Often when I am sick, doctors prescribe an antibiotic because they believe I have also developed some bacterial infection. Some of my friends experience strep throat and pneumonia these days, and I have been stricken with these complications a couple of times.

Living up north you would think that we would be more protected in our semi isolation from getting flus and colds, but with international air travel these days none of us are immune to picking up a virus or any kind of infection.

There have been many severe epidemics and a few pandemics throughout history. The Spanish Flu during the First World War killed my great-grandfather John Chookomolin. He and a group of young men from Attawapiskat had been recruited or coerced by an army officer to enlist in the Canadian Forces in 1917. They then travelled from Attawapiskat for training in southern Ontario.

Soon after they went by ship to England and at some point my grandfather contracted the flu. He became very sick during the crossing and he lingered for a while in a medical field operation in England and then passed away. I have visited his grave in Englefield Green, just outside the city of London, England. The Spanish Flu is the most notorious pandemic in history that killed 50 million people world wide and it was known to have involved the H1N1 virus.

During the regular flu season in Canada more than 3,500 people die every year and more than 12,000 end up in the hospital. This demonstrates that viruses like the regular flu is one of the biggest killers in the country every year.

Many of us get the annual flu vaccine to deal with this influenza, but many do not. Although I think getting it is probably a good idea as it offers some protection, a lot of people don’t trust big pharma these days and they do not get a flu shot. It is understandable that a lot of the population don’t trust drug companies and even our governments as a result of so may bad experiences.

Right now there is a very dangerous virus circulating around the world that originated in China. The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency over the outbreak of the Novel coronavirus, also named 2019-nCoV, but has not yet called it a pandemic. As of the first week of February, close to 500 people have died of this virus and it has made close to 25,000 sick in China. The virus has now spread to different parts of the world, including Canada and the United States.

The big problem with this virus is that it is expanding in what is known as an exponential manner. That is why a few cases a month ago has grown so quickly to infect and kill so many. Now that this virus is known to have travelled to many countries in the world there is a possibility it will become a pandemic.

The hope is that it will not be anywhere as serious as the Spanish Flu but there is that danger because we live in a time where air travel can transport hundreds of thousands of people all over the world every day. We do have a much better medical treatment and preventative system in most counties but there are many third world locations where that is not the case.

The best we can do right now is to stay home and avoid crowds, wash hands often, do not touch your face, eyes, ears or nose with your hands and stay away from anyone who appears to have a cold or flu.

I know that many people are sick with the flu these days back in my home community of Attawapiskat and other First Nations up the James Bay coast. Many of my people right across the country don’t have the same degree of medical service that is offered in towns and cities to the south. Many also don’t have access to decent housing, affordable healthy diets and clean water and that makes them more susceptible to any flu or new virus that appears.

Let’s hope this coronavirus calms down and disappears over the next little while or we will have a pandemic on our hands.