Manitoba's former tuberculosis control director will testify in front of a federal health committee to push for action to eliminate a disease critics call a national embarrassment.
Longtime TB control director Dr. Earl Hershfield will appear alongside other TB experts and First Nations representatives at a health committee hearing in Ottawa on April 20. Recommendations stemming from the testimony will be debated in Parliament, raising hopes the Harper government will address the poverty, poor housing and lack of access to medical care that help TB spread.
Hershfield spent 37 years at the helm of Manitoba's TB control program and recently blasted provincial health officials for losing track of sick TB patients, saying the system is "falling apart."
Hershfield said he will likely raise his concerns about gaps in tracking and treating TB patients at the upcoming hearing and offer his opinion on what could be done to improve it.
"That's not the way to run tuberculosis control," Hershfield said. "You need a director to make the policy and people to carry it out in the field."
Manitoba recently recorded the highest TB rates of any province, making it a national hot spot of an infectious disease that experts say is a by-product of overcrowded homes, malnutrition and poor overall health. The airborne disease is rampant in many northern Manitoba communities where cramped living quarters help it spread.
Winnipeg MP and NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis brought TB to the federal health committee's attention after a Free Press series revealed some Manitoba communities recorded some of the highest TB rates in the world.
Some northern First Nations communities have recorded more than 600 cases of TB per 100,000 people. By comparison, Canada's national rate is five cases per 100,000 and the rate in Bangladesh is slightly below 400 cases per 100,000.
Wasylycia-Leis said she's hopeful the federal government will be forced to act on the recommendations from the hearings.
She said eliminating TB should be a priority, and that Canada needs a better national strategy to eradicate it.