Inuit in Canada live in 53 remote isolated communities spread across four geographic regions of the Canadian Arctic. Most Inuit communities are served by a nursing station only and accessing hospital and/or specialized services can require travelling thousands of miles by air from home to larger centres such as Iqaluit, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal or St. John’s.

Inuit still have a much lower life expectancy than other Canadians, with a gap of 10 years for Inuit men in Nunavik compared to southern non-Aboriginal Canadians. Rates of infant mortality are still relatively high, and suicide rates in some regions are up to nine times the national average. Other health disparities include higher rates of chronic illness and infectious disease, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illness. The rates of tuberculosis rates for Inuit doubled between 2006 and 2010 to 185 times the rate among non-Aboriginal Canadians. Many of these issues are an outcome of poor socioeconomic conditions in Inuit communities as indicated by high poverty rates, low levels of educational attainment, limited employment opportunities, and inadequate and overcrowded housing conditions. The high birthrate, resulting in over 50 per cent of the Inuit population now being under the age of 25 has significant health policy and program implications.

Improving the health status of Inuit women and their families has been a priority since Pauktuutit’s incorporation in 1984. For example, traditional midwifery was replaced by the imposition of the western medical model in the 1950s and ‘60s, and for some time this knowledge was at risk of being lost forever. Presently many Inuit women still have to leave their homes and families to deliver babies in hospital settings although there is now a resurgence of and increased support for Inuit midwifery in several regions. The Territories have the highest rates of violence in the country, meaning that for Inuit women violence and abuse are significant physical and mental health issues. Sexual health and family planning are current issues for the Board and staff.

In response to direction provided by its membership and Board of Directors, Pauktuutit has implemented numerous successful health prevention and promotion projects on issues including maternal child health and midwifery, tobacco cessation, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, FASD, early childhood development, injury prevention, health research and others. Raising awareness and building the capacity of Inuit to deliver health programs is an important part of the work of the health department at Pauktuutit.

Pauktuutit’s work on health is also intended to influence policy and program development to better meet the needs of Inuit women and their families, as well as developing plain language bilingual information resources for use by individuals, front line workers and health care professionals. It uses a population health approach with a holistic view to addressing the social determinants of health including language, culture and gender as central considerations. Pauktuutit considers the unique needs and priorities of women, men, elders and youth in its policy and project initiatives.

Pauktuutit works with many national, regional and community partners including Inuit land claims organizations, regional governments and health boards, Aboriginal organizations and academia. Its work is supported and enhanced by participating in the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s (ITK) National Inuit Committee on Health (NICOH), the ITK Alianait Mental Health Working Group and the National Inuit Public Health Task Group. It also has a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and other organizations to support collaborative initiatives on mutual objectives and priorities.

Pauktuutit’s work on health issues is unique in that it seeks advice from Inuit subject matter experts and other partners through advisory committees to its projects. Resources that are developed are intended for use or modification by all Inuit communities, and to the extent possible translated into several dialects of Inuktitut.

Pauktuutit’s health team is a small group of dedicated individuals with a broad range of subject-matter expertise. The team, although not service providers, are in touch with many on-the-ground personnel and develop close ties in the community. The Board of Directors has championed many health initiatives and provides guidance, regional perspectives and subject matter expertise.

Pauktuutit’s work would not be possible without the support of many like-minded partners dedicated to making a difference in the lives of Inuit women, their families, and communities.