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Old 09-28-2005, 10:32 PM   #1
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Post Infrastructure improvements needed to improve aboriginal telehealth

Infrastructure improvements needed to improve aboriginal telehealth: Fontaine
23/09/2005 6:50:00 PM

WINNIPEG (CP) - Canada's First Nations have a long way to go to reach their goal of having 40 per cent of their communities using online health services in five years, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations told a conference Friday.


Phil Fontaine said he plans to make the issue a priority at the upcoming first ministers' meeting on aboriginal issues, to be held this November in Kelowna, B.C.
"Unfortunately, many First Nations communities still lack the basic infrastructure to connect to the Internet," Fontaine said during opening remarks to kick off the first national aboriginal telehealth conference.

"Not to make light of the digital divide, but for some of our communities, teledentistry means calling next door to see if your neighbour has a pair of pliers to pull a tooth."

More than 30 per cent of the 633 First Nations communities in Canada are located more than 90 kilometres from a physician, said Fontaine.

But the trip can take several days if weather is a factor, or if hospital care is needed even further away.

The AFN is still crunching numbers to determine how much money it needs from provincial and federal governments to make telehealth a permanent fixture for First Nations.

That could mean anything from making specialists available for long-distance consultations, to robotic surgeries, said Fontaine.

The goal is to have 40 per cent of communities - about 250 - connected within five years, at an annual cost of about $35,000 per community.

Currently, only 78 communities have the infrastructure to use telehealth services, and many of those don't have funding past next March.

Fontaine said he plans to make sure telehealth is on the agenda for this fall's special first ministers' meeting, which will address housing, health and other challenges facing aboriginals.

In Canada's 53 Inuit communities, as many as 90 per cent of residents have no daily access to a doctor, making it common for patients to go as long as two years without a checkup.

Onalee Randell, national health director with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said governments should seize the opportunity to use telehealth to provide support to health workers in Inuit communities and also connect them with health providers in southern cities.

"It would be great to have ultrasounds completed and sent down to be reviewed by a radiologist, and then sent back," said Randell.

"It saves a pregnant mother from having to go and be evacuated, or go on medical travel, to have something that's very routine for a pregnant woman in southern Canada."

Federal Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott did not attend the conference, which wraps up Saturday.

But in a videotaped address, Scott said his department is leading a federal initiative to work with provincial and private stakeholders to increase broadband capacity in remote areas to make telehealth a reality.
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