A new study says Inuit children’s hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses such as RSV, pneumonia or bronchitis are costing Northern governments millions of dollars.
The study was published this week in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
In Canada’s Northwest Territories (N.W.T.), less than four per cent of Inuit babies are hospitalized because of a lower respiratory tract infection.
In Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut it’s almost 25 per cent and in Nunavik, the Inuit region of northern Quebec, almost half of all babies are admitted to hospital.
The Kitikmeot region had Nunavut’s highest rate, with almost 40 per cent of babies admitted to the hospital.
That’s costly when many babies have to be medavaced out of their communities to a regional hospital or to hospitals in the south.
The study estimated transportation and inpatient costs, physician fees, ER and accommodation for one parent at a hotel.
The infections cost the N.W.T. government an estimated $1.4 million from Jan. 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.
In Nunavik, the estimated cost was $3.8 million. In Nunavut for the same 18-month period, the estimated cost was $15.6 million.
Dr. Anna Banerji, the study’s lead researcher and a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto, said that money would be better spent on prevention.
She suggests immunization, and fighting some of the root causes of respiratory illness such as smoking and overcrowded homes.
She said large distances between communities and the hospitals can also mean delays in treatment and “the kids get very sick.”
Since 2009, Banerji has since been calling on Nunavut health officials to give all Inuit infants palivizumab, a vaccine that is known to reduce RSV infections. One full treatment of palivizumab can cost up to $7,800 per infant.