Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared Monday to reject a request by a group of First Nations in Manitoba for Canada to allow Cuban doctors into their communities to bolster their health care services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday requesting the federal government open its doors to Cuban Health Brigades, which are currently in several countries, including Italy, responding to the COVID-19 epidemic.
SCO represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota communities in Manitoba.
Freeland said Canada has enough medical resources to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic without international help.
“Canada’s health care system, which is staffed by outstanding health care professionals, has the capacity to deal with this extraordinary challenge,” said Freeland, during the daily federal government news conference on the country’s pandemic response.
“Our job as a government is to work very hard to provide our health care system with all the resources it needs to help all Canadians — Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said she is working with the chief medical officer at Indigenous Services Canada. Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada could draw quickly from other jurisdictions to augment health services for First Nations in the event of an outbreak.
“We also have mechanisms for mutual aid between different jurisdictions and should that be required that can also be channelled through the Public Health Agency of Canada,” said Tam.
Daniels said in a statement to CBC News that he applauds and appreciates the work by Canadian health care service providers in communities, but there are not enough of them to deal with the unfolding pandemic.
“Canada does not have enough health care workers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to address the numbers of upcoming cases in First Nation communities,” he said in the statement.
“What our communities need is more health care workers on site in our communities.”
David LeDoux, chief of Gambler First Nation about 350 km west of Winnipeg, said having Cuban doctors on site would mean ill community members wouldn’t have to be sent to access outside medical services.
“First Nation citizens want to stay in their communities as much as possible,” said LeDoux, whose community is a member of SCO.
“Without an increase of health care workers on site in communities and appropriate medical equipment and supply, our patients will have to be sent outside of their communities for urgent medical care.”
Gambler First Nation already has an agreement with Cuba for one doctor to come and live on-reserve, but visa issues have kept it from happening.
Daniels said in his letter to Trudeau Friday that he wanted Canada to formally request Cuba send a contingent of doctors and make the necessary visa arrangements allowing them to work in the country.