As Minister of Health, I am very concerned about the health of children living in Kashechewan First Nation. I have been in regular contact with my Health Canada officials, who have been working closely with community leaders to provide the immediate care that is needed for these children.
In the last two days, a medical team led by Dr. Gordon Green of Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) was on the ground in Kashechewan examining more than 30 children and ensuring care for those who require it.
I spoke with Dr. Green yesterday and he informed me that he and his team of physicians and nurses diagnosed the vast majority of children examined with eczema. There are also a few cases of scabies, impetigo and psoriasis. These are skin conditions that are fully treatable and the children are getting the treatment they require. A member of the medical team will be returning in two to three weeks to follow-up. In the meantime, Health Canada will continue to provide all necessary ongoing care. While recent testing has confirmed the drinking water falls within established drinking water guidelines, there will be additional independent testing conducted.
While I am relieved to know there is no immediate medical emergency in the community, the situation in Kashechewan is another troubling reminder of the many social and health challenges that are faced by many First Nation and Inuit communities. We have seen states of emergency declared in Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We have read painful stories of suicide, addiction and disease.
As a physician, I find it unacceptable that these conditions exist in a nation as rich as Canada. I have spoken to First Nations Leaders who are deeply concerned for their people, but just as deeply committed to finding real, lasting solutions. I have assured them of our Government’s firm resolve to work with them in partnership, to find those solutions. But this will not happen overnight. This will require commitment and partnership between all levels of government and with First Nations leaders. It will require a sustained, comprehensive plan of investment, which is exactly the plan that the Government laid out in this week’s Budget. This investment includes $8.4 billion for better schools and housing, cleaner water, and improvements for nursing stations.
Having laid out our plan, we need to deliver results. Not only in terms of dollars invested but partnerships renewed and hope restored. I am committed to working with First Nations to this end.