Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Use traditional medicine to fight flu

The head of a Manitoba First Nations organization is calling on his fellow chiefs to look to traditional aboriginal medicine to help fight the next wave of swine flu, also called H1N1.

Acting grand chief Norman Bone of the Southern Chiefs' Organization said he wants to drive home the fact that First Nations have access to traditional remedies to improve their health and treat the flu on their own, rather than waiting for funding announcements.

"It's more taking a step, doing what we can for ourselves," he said, adding that SCO would also welcome federal or provincial funding for traditional treatment, if an arrangement could be made.

Bone declined to say what types of roots, herbs or other remedies would be used to treat or prevent H1N1, based on the advice of elders. He said he's not suggesting people avoid vaccines in favour of traditional medicine.

"What I'm also promoting is the use of both methods," he said.

Residents of the northern Manitoba First Nations communities of St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill were the worst affected by the H1N1 flu so far, with hundreds of patients sick and dozens flown to Winnipeg for treatment.

Aboriginals make up less than four per cent of Canada's population but have accounted for 11.1 per cent of the total number of reported H1N1 cases, 15.6 per cent of the hospitalized cases, 15 per cent of the patients admitted to intensive care with it, and 12.3 per cent of the deaths.

In Manitoba more than one in four of the 886 individuals diagnosed with H1N1 are First Nations.

SCO health director Shirli Ewanchuk said the organization has been working with communities on pandemic planning since 2007, and is working to ensure there's a stockpile of traditional medicine for communities, including urban First Nations people.

Bone said he was pleased by last week's announcement that the province would spend $1.5 million to provide 15,000 medical kits including masks, tissue, hand sanitizer, rubber gloves and other supplies to First Nations.

Ewanchuk said with the kits paid for, the SCO can focus on making sure health centres in southern First Nations have the proper protective equipment and training, and lining up training for chiefs to deal with a flu pandemic, among other priorities.

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