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Manitoba Health won't say if First Nations reserve has swine flu

VANCOUVER - A remote First Nations reserve in northeast Manitoba may be at the centre of the next pandemic. But Manitoba Health won't tell them what's going on.

On Tuesday, the Ottawa Citizen reported in passing that the St. Theresa Point First Nation had sent seven persons by medevac to Winnipeg, 500 kilometres to the southwest. Two of the patients were pregnant, and one lost her child soon after.

By Wednesday night, 20 reserve residents had been flown out, and Manitoba Health finally released a statement:

Manitoba Health and Healthy Living is reporting 27 new confirmed H1N1 cases in people between the ages of one month and 56 years, bringing the provincial total to 38 cases in six regions across Manitoba.

Of the new cases, three patients have been hospitalized. Thirteen of the new confirmed cases were in males and 14 in females. The three new confirmed cases in the Burntwood region are from two First Nation communities.

Burntwood covers St. Theresa Point, but MH did not identify the First Nations communities with H1N1 cases.

When The Tyee contacted Chief David McDougall on Wednesday afternoon, he said he had had no official news about the cases, only rumours.

When The Tyee called again on Wednesday night, Chief McDougall said he had heard -- not from Manitoba Health -- that the two Burntwood cases were indeed from St. Theresa Point.

"This contravenes how First Nations people should be treated," he said.

He added that the mother of a 10-month-old child with suspected H1N1 had not been told clearly what her daughter's problem was. "She's not familiar with medical terminology," Chief McDougall said.

By 10 p.m. Manitoba time, Chief McDougall said, he still didn't have official confirmation about the two cases, not to mention the other 18 who have been flown out to Winnipeg.

He said he plans to hold a press conference in the morning.

Meanwhile, CBC reported on Wednesday that two paramedics had been flown into St. Theresa Point without being alerted to the possible illness of the patients they were to look after.

After returning to Winnipeg, the paramedics went on to look after other patients. CBC said the paramedics were now off duty and awaiting test results.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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