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New Party Tries Tuberculosis Strategy

New Party Tries Tuberculosis Strategy

Three members of Canada's parliament have formed a committee to develop a national strategy to eliminate tuberculosis in First Nations communities. Manitoba MPs Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Niki Ashton, and the federal New Democratic Party's aboriginal affairs critic, Jean Crowder (Nanaimo-Cowichan), plan to submit the proposal in a private member's bill when Parliament reconvenes in late January.

Some Manitoba First Nations have recorded high TB rates not seen in the world since the mid 1970s, Wasylycia-Leis says. In some northern communities the rate is 600 TB cases per 100,000 population, surpassing TB rates even in developing countries.

"I think the federal government can play a key role by saying this is a national priority," says Wasylycia-Leis. "[It's] a national embarrassment. Here we are heading into 2010 and a curable disease is taking a toll on our First Nations communities."

The strategy should offer initiatives to improve housing and infrastructure, including providing access to clean, running water, says David Harper, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. "This is one of the issues we'd want to be 100 percent involved in," he said.

Housing and improving access to healthy foods will both be addressed, says Ashton. Much of the TB disparity stems from overcrowded housing and poor health, said Theresa Oswald, Manitoba's health minister. She called the idea of a national strategy "hugely encouraging." The federal government has spent more on health recently, she says, adding, "I will be cautiously optimistic."

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