The Week Ahead: Preventative medicine

Circumpolar health takes center stage at a conference in Copenhagen this week.

The last line of defense. (Pixabay)

This week, doctors and other health professionals, policy and decision makers, and representatives from indigenous groups gather in Copenhagen for the 17th triennial International Congress on Circumpolar Health.

The four-day event, which draws leading experts in the field, is the largest scientific gathering about circumpolar health, and bills itself as the primary source of information exchange about the topic.

These days, there is much to discuss: Alongside perennial issues such as suicide and the role genetics plays in health, a main focus of this year’s session will be how changes facing the region will affect the health and well-being of the people who live there.

One aim is to find common approaches to circumpolar issues. This is complicated somewhat by the differing approaches to healthcare amongst the eight Arctic countries. Still, healthcare professionals say that, regardless of how you address healthcare, making progress in the North requires addressing various underlying “health gaps” – in the form of the infrastructure available for proving healthcare, the product it delivers and the comparative health of residents.

[Unhealthy air in rural Alaska homes targeted in tribal program]

Such gaps can be expected to grow larger in the years to come as environmental, social, climate and other pressures on the region’s populations mount.

The gap in infrastructure is often a function of demographics and, ultimately, economics; even in the largest cities of the region, the cost of maintaining levels of care found in regions further south is prohibitively high. Instead, patients requiring complicated treatment must normally be transported, sometimes with without their loved ones, to areas where culture and language differences may add another layer of barriers to care.

Technology can alleviate some of the problem of access to care, in particular when it comes to certain forms of specialist treatment. Video-conferencing has the potential to make it possible to bring the physician to the patient, rather than the other way around.

Healthcare professionals working in the region argue that the biggest gains are to be made by raising overall health standards in the North. But they also point out that the work of closing that gap begins outside the doctor’s office: Factors such as a lack of education, social inequality and an environment in flux may not be medical issues, but left unaddressed, they undermine the well-being of the entire community.


We are all lobbyists
Meanwhile, in Norway, the country’s politically motivated gather for Arendalsuka, a week-long annual event that, with over 800 public meetings, is considered to be the country’s largest political happening.

It is the sort of event that, according to Ola Storeng, former business editor of the news outlet Aftenposten, where being able to tell the right story about your company or your cause can make the difference when it comes time for Oslo to hand out tax breaks and grants.

“Being on hand in Arendal has gradually become a minimum requirement if someone who is involved in public life is to be taken seriously,” he wrote in a 2016, in a commentary titled “The lobbyists’ festival.”

Those with a stake in the Arctic do not have to shout to win Oslo’s ear: Environmental issues and concerns about Russia enshroud developments in the region in a sense of political urgency.

Decision makers in the south, however, have long had an eye on the Norway’s northern regions for their economic potential: As income from its North Sea oil reserves declines, they see Northern Norway — particularly its offshore industries, such as oil and aquaculture — as the new engine of the country’s economic growth.

The job now, as those representing the North see it, is to keep as many of those benefits as possible from leaving the region. All lobbying is local, too.


Unpopular election
And, on Monday, ITK, Canada’s national Inuit organisation, holds an election for president.

The three-way race pits Natan Obed, the incumbent, elected in 2015, against Peter Williamson, a political consultant, and Peter Ittinuar, a public servant and former legislator.

All three men have spent their careers working to improve conditions for Inuit. That they have announced the same priorities — better housing, suicide prevention and education — reflects the similarity of their experiences, as well as the pressing need to address those issues.

Another issue ITK would do well to address sooner, rather than later, is the way the president is selected, Ittinuar argues.

While ITK represents some 60,000 people, the voting for president is done by its eight-member board. This, worries Ittinuar, has resulted in an organisation that has become “detached” from the people it represents, he told CBC North, a news outlet.

If elected, he would change the way they run.

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].