In Nunavut, list of social ills goes on
Some of our fellow humans did accurately predict when the planet Venus would make its transit between the earth and the sun, casting a tiny black speck on that life sustaining source of heat and light.
Others built a space station and keep ferrying people and supplies back and forth, and if we think at all about this, we kind of accept that as normal .
In health care, we can now look inside our bodies in great detail without ever using a knife and do too many more amazing things to recite here.
All these achievements are a testimony to the intelligence of the human race where it concerns technology.
It is therefore puzzling why we cannot use that same intelligence effectively when we encounter serious behaviour and social problems.
I have written about the desperate living conditions in Nunavut. We hear about similar conditions in our inner cities and on Indian reserves, but I can assert from first-hand experience that in our own Canadian north, things are worse than anywhere else. Malnutrition, overcrowding, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, lack of education, infectious diseases, infant mortality, the highest suicide rate in the country, if not in the world, and the list of social ills goes on. There are times when I ask myself why I even bother to use my skills as a physician, since the results of my efforts appear to be rather futile.
I have a pretty good idea what needs to be done to improve the situation, but that will cost a lot of money and manpower and there is not the political will to draw up a comprehensive plan and fund it.
Therefore, our politicians let the situation deteriorate further and further and eventually the cost of dealing with the consequences of the neglect will be far greater than dealing with it now.
Some of the needed elements in a comprehensive plan:
• Good schools with good teachers and teaching materials appropriate for the Inuit culture. Enroll all ages and teach skills that are sorely lacking. Many have no idea how to budget, make wise purchases and make the money last until the next pay or social assistance cheque.
• Make sure all children receive healthy and nutritious food each day until they graduate from high school. No matter how good the school and teachers, children will not learn when starving, as they are now. Moreover, they will attend school more readily in sharp contrast to the current poor attendance records.
• Part of the curriculum should include how to responsibly deal with one’s sexuality, birth control and parenting skills. Nunavut has by far the highest birth rate in the country, causing a population explosion and the majority is now under age 18. Pregnancies often start at age 15 and this contributes to the housing shortage and overcrowding. I pity the infants being reared by parents who are still children themselves, without much education and no source of income. They often give the infant away to an older relative or neighbour. Initially they are doted upon, but that slacks off after age two. We are raising a generation of people without much education or skills and largely dependent on hand-outs for the rest of their lives.
• Adequate housing to deal with the current overcrowding, where at times 15-20 people live under one roof in a one- or two-bedroom house.
• Provide comprehensive mental health services to deal with the depression, hopelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence.
• Improved maternal and child health services. Currently there are too many fetal alcohol children and too many premature babies due to poor pre-natal health care.
• Make healthy food affordable and the junk food very expensive. Teach how to prepare healthy meals and, thereby, prevent the rapidly increasing incidence of diabetes and all its complications. Thirty years ago there was hardly any diabetes, and now one in every nine people have this on account of poor diet.
This is just an outline of what is going to be needed to improve the situation among the people who managed to live independently in the harshest of environments until the white man came and destroyed their social order and way of life.
Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.