For weeks, First Nation leaders throughout northwestern Ontario have been raising concerns about a lack of resources when it comes to handling the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in their communities.
The chief executive officer of Matawa First Nations told CBC Thunder Bay on April 17 that communities represented by his group didn’t have the resources to properly prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Our people were not at the stage where they were able to handle this pandemic,” said David Paul Achneepineskum.
Patty Hajdu, federal minister of health and MP for Thunder Bay – Superior North, said her government is working to ensure First Nation communities have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), increased COVID-19 testing and additional financial resources.
“There are a number of different ways that communities are using the money but the idea is that the money would be flexible to help communities meet their own specific needs,” said Hajdu in an interview with CBC on Wednesday.
Assisting members on and off-reserve
‘Each community is going to have its own unique challenges and its own approach. But that’s that’s the work that we’ve been doing at the federal level to support First Nations communities with responses that are appropriate to their own particular situation.”
Hajdu said she has seen communities use additional funds to put together different programs to assist members on and off reserves in the region.
“One of the First Nations in my riding used some of those additional funds to put together care packages for elders that are living in not necessarily on a First Nation but that are living in in Thunder Bay or in other smaller communities on the north shore to make sure that they have what they need,” she said.
Canada not ‘out of the woods’ getting PPE
But when it comes to securing PPE, Hajdu said Canada is not “out of the woods yet”.
“It’s a very tight market out there,” she said. ” Globally everybody is trying to procure, and as each country sort of enters its peak it creates another sort of shock wave… through the supply chain where the demand exceeds the capacity or supply, not just domestically but globally.”
Hajdu said there are a number of approaches in place that will help to secure equipment that is in high demand, and teams at the federal level are working on procuring PPE from several countries.
“We’ve also started boosting our own domestic capacity to create some of the products that we know are in short supply or that we’re going to need an ongoing demand of,” she said.
Hajdu said chemical reagents used in COVID-19 testing are an example of a product that is now being produced in Canada.
“Reagent has been really hard to procure and we’ve may now managed to support a company in New Brunswick who is now able to domestically create that reagent…that means we can get it out to provinces and territories much more quickly,” she said.
Hadju added that approvals through Health Canada for testing kits have also been accelerated, and surgical gown manufacturing is now being source domestically, which will also help meet a growing need.