Gussie Bennett’s funeral was Friday.
The 14-year-old was from Nain in Labrador.
And it’s believed he died from tuberculosis last weekend.
“My heart goes out to the family of the young boy who died,” Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
Obed was joined by Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott Friday in Ottawa where it plan was announced to eliminate tuberculosis.
Rates among Inuit are 300 times higher than elsewhere in Canada.
Neither wanted to talk about Gussie.
“I’m not in a position where I want to confer any of the details around that case,” said Philpott. “But as I said to you the rates are outrageously high. And young people, teenagers, are getting active tuberculosis in Canada.”
The announcement follows money from this year’s budget to fight TB, such as $27.5 million over five years for enhanced prevention, screening and treatment.
“This should absolutely not happen. It’s an entirely preventable and treatable condition,” said Philpott. “But the stories of young people dying of tuberculosis in Canada in the 21st Century are part of what drives us to this commitment we’re making today.”
But poverty and overcrowded housing will be roadblocks.
“You have a house with two bedrooms and there’s ten people living in the same house, the fact that someone has TB can easily spread from one person to another,” said Dr. Thomas Wong, chief medical officer for First Nation Insurance Health Benefits program.
The goal is to cut TB rates in half by 2025 and completely by 2030.
There were 100 new active cases of tuberculosis in 2017 in Nunavut, whose population is 85 per cent Inuit, along with at least 300 latent cases, Philpott said.
If caught early enough, tuberculosis can be treated with antibiotics and typically only requires at most two weeks of quarantine.
The higher infection rate among Inuit in the North is in part attributed historical government policies of forced relocation, partly to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. Oftentimes, Inuit were moved off the land and into crowded, substandard housing, in which the airborne disease was much more easily passed from person to person.
A stigma has grown around the disease and around the health system that purports to fight it, which has created a barrier to seeking treatment within Inuit Nunangat, Obed said.
That stigma includes an aversion to being labelled with tuberculosis and also a mistrust of the health-care system that has caused such lasting damage to Inuit culture and families.
-with files from The Canadian Press