Assembly of First Nations signs H1N1 communication protocol with Health Canada and INAC | Media.Knet.Ca

Assembly of First Nations signs H1N1 communication protocol with Health Canada and INAC

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Swine flu protocol signed for First Nations - Health minister says communications plan should reduce fear over pandemic

September 19, 2009

Two federal cabinet ministers and the newly elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations signed a communications protocol Saturday, promising to work closely with aboriginal leaders to control the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, appearing at an Ottawa news conference with Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, said the protocol is aimed at improving communications between government officials and remote First Nations communities.

When asked whether such a protocol would have "made a difference" in Health Canada's decision to include body bags in a flu-supply shipment to northern Manitoba reserves last week, she said, "I think it would have."

Aboriginal leaders called the move insensitive, while a Health Canada spokesman said the shipment was part of "routine restocking" — and not linked solely to a potential new wave of flu.

Aglukkaq said it's a challenge to get the right information out to First Nations communities. She said the pandemic, declared last spring, has created some fear, so the role of the protocol will be to make sure people make decisions based on facts.

"We need to overcome the jurisdictional challenges between provincial governments and territorial governments," Atleo said.

"First Nations governments must be front and centre and supported with the resources involved in the communication and in the planning, so that we aren’t challenged by enhanced fear, anxiety," the national chief said.

He added that he would rather see a strong reaction to missteps in flu planning than a weak response, or none at all.

Atleo said a "virtual summit" will be held before the end of October to give First Nations leaders online access to flu experts.

Under the protocol, First Nations governments will meet with federal government officials on a monthly basis to discuss planning in the struggle against H1N1.