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June 25, 2009 12:10 p.m. EST
Winnipeg, Manitoba (AHN) - Frustrated over what aboriginal Canadians perceive as lack of concern by the federal government on the health concerns of natives, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief Ron Evans went one step ahead. He declared on Wednesday a state of emergency in aboriginal communities due to the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.
The measure was prompted by the large number of affected natives. Aboriginals comprise over 10 percent of Manitobans, but two-thirds of provincial residents infected with swine flu are natives. Manitoba has 458 laboratory-confirmed cases.
Evans said in a statement, "With the H1N1 virus spreading rapidly through the communities and supplies taking nearly a month to be delivered, the First Nation people are at too much risk for this situation to continue any longer... We've had enough."
Evans is pushing the federal and provincial governments to follow their example. He attributed the delays to the bureaucratic set-up in which Ottawa takes care of funding health care services for natives, while medical personnel and services are the responsibility of the provinces.
With Evans' declaration, the First Nations communities in Manitoba could shift financial resources from other programs to battle the H1N1 pandemic.
Garden Hill First Nations chief David Harper said, quoted by the Toronto Star, "We are calling on the federal health minister (Leona Aglukkaq) and every minister responsible for this crisis to come forward and state who is taking the lead role here and explain what is happening."
The challenge to federal and provincial health officers comes amid a report Wednesday that Health Canada has withheld shipping a primary tool to battle the H1N1 - alcohol-based hand sanitizers - because of hand gel theft incidents in aboriginal communities pilfered by natives who drink the sanitizer instead of using it to disinfect their hands.