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High rates cause for worry

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 4, 2012

Nunavut has the highest rates of preventable deaths in the country, according to a report just released, and Nunavut's chief medical officer says she is concerned but not surprised.

"Certainly the information on mortality and preventable deaths doesn't surprise me," said Dr. Geraldine Osborne. "I'm concerned to see an upward trend."

Preventable deaths, such as smoking-related cancers, are triple the rate in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada, according to the 2012 Health Indicators Report, released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information last month.

In a territory where more than half of the population smokes, Osborne said lung cancer is a huge contributor to the preventable death rate.

"We have really high rates of smoking," she said. "Consequently, we have very high rates of lung cancer."

Osborne said Nunavut's high suicide rate, deaths due to injury and infants who die within their first year contribute as well. Nunavut's suicide rate is the highest in the country and Osborne said the infant mortality rate is three times the national rate.

"Here in Nunavut, it's really deaths in young people," she said. "It's our rates of suicide, fatalities due to injuries and infant mortality, which are much higher."

The report also cited alcohol-related deaths. Osborne said the way alcohol is consumed in Nunavut has a big impact on health.

"The pattern of drinking is very different here; it's binge-drinking," she said. "It's not continuous every-day amounts of drinking, which gives a different pattern of liver disease."

A bigger concern than liver disease is the number of alcohol-related injuries that result in death, such as boating, ATV and snowmobile accidents, Osborne said.

"It plays a role in injuries for sure," she said. Alcohol could also be a factor in some suicides, she added.

Nunavut's housing conditions play a huge role when it comes to health, Osborne said.

"It has a number of effects on health," she said. "It obviously facilitates the spread of communicable diseases. It contributes to stress and mental health problems."

Low incomes and a lack of education in the territory contribute as well. Education usually means better paying jobs, which often translates into better health.

"We have the lowest completion rate for high school," Osborne said. "Education is a big determinant of health."

Socio-economic factors and their health effects aren't limited to Nunavut, Osborne also said.

"In the least affluent areas, rates are higher," she said. "It doesn't matter where in the world you go, this is the case. Always."

According to the report, "people living in the least affluent neighbourhoods were twice as likely to die from preventable causes as those in the most affluent neighbourhoods."

Osborne said the Government of Nunavut is partnering with a variety of agencies in an effort to improve the health of Nunavummiut, such as suicide and tobacco initiatives and prenatal nutrition programs.

"The flip-side of the coin is we can do something about this," she said. "They're all preventable."

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