Infant mortality Among Canadian Inuit Approaching Third World Levels

Wednesday June 24, 2009 – Ottawa, Ontario – Health indicators among Inuit children in Canada are approaching levels seen in developing countries, a report released today by UNICEF Canada reveals. In Nunavut, the infant mortality rate is 16 deaths per 1,000 live births – approaching levels of Sri Lanka and Fiji.The report, Aboriginal Children’s Health: Leaving No Child Behind, is the Canadian supplement to State of the World’s Children, an annual survey of child development indicators around the world.

“If this were a report card, Canada would get failing grades,” said National Inuit leader Mary Simon. “UNICEF is reporting on the unacceptable health status of our Inuit children on a number of fronts. We still have unacceptably high levels of infant mortality rates, the highest rates of Tuberculosis in Canada, and our overcrowding rates contribute to perpetuating these health situations for our children. The current H1N1 influenza illustrates this.”

The report also shows great disparities between Inuit and non-Inuit in Canada. The infant mortality rate among Inuit is four times the national average. Infant mortality is more than a technical measure of the deaths of young children. It is an indicator of seismic fault lines in the delivery of health services to mothers and children, the report says.

Between 2002 and 2006, the tuberculosis rate among Inuit was 90 times higher than the rate in Canadians born in Canada. This at a time when the Canadian incidence of the disease fell to its lowest rate ever recorded.

Thirty-three percent of Inuit children suffer from chronic health conditions. In 2001, only 45 percent of Inuit children had seen a doctor in the past year, compared with 85 percent of non-aboriginal children. The vast majority of Inuit communities have no resident doctor and the nearest hospital is accessible only by air.

“There are no quick fixes or band-aid solutions that will bring about meaningful, long-term change,” said Mary Simon. “I recommend reading the chapter written about Inuit children’s health, called Rosalie’s Story: Putting a face on Inuit maternal and child health issues. It provides a compelling example of what Inuit live with in terms of health care.”

Compounding these numbers is the relative youth of the Inuit population. According to the 2006 Census, 35 percent of Inuit are under the age of 15.

“Solutions must be multi-faceted and multi-jurisdictional. Inuit know that change is needed and that youth are the key,” said Mary Simon. “Improving access to services and programs targeted at children and youth and their parents must be a priority in efforts to address the health inequities faced by Inuit. And these initiatives must be community-driven to be viable for the unique contexts in which Inuit live.”

The report marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges governments to ensure that all children enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and access to health care services.

As Canadians prepare to celebrate Canada day, the report asks Canadians to reflect on what kind of country they want for Canadian children.


Stephen Hendrie, Director of Communications
Tel: 613.277.3178,

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