All non-urgent eye care was put on pause when there was an outbreak of Covid-19 in Nunavut, but it is expected those who are seeking non-urgent eye care should be able to see eye teams in the territory soon.

Eye teams in Nunavut are funded by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Non Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) for eligible Inuit and First Nations recipients living in the territory.

The impacts of Covid-19 in 2020 with the first lockdown and the outbreak late in the year has affected eye teams being able travel to the territory’s various communities.

Danarae Sommerville, Communications Specialist with the Department of Health stated that “this has put a strain on the eye teams being able to meet the travel demands in each community” which has resulted in more people being put on waitlists.

Teams typically travel to Iqaluit between six to eight times a year, where they stay around for three to four days, on average according to the Department of Health they are able to see approximately 24 patients in a day, and visit various Qikiqtani communities two to three times per year depending on the length of the waitlist.

The Department of Health stated a hope to enhance services in the near future.

The GN recommends to make optometry appointments while traveling down south if possible. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

The Government of Nunavut still offers urgent ophthalmological care for Nunavummiut who have a valid Nunavut healthcare card. If coming from a health centre the local community health nurse would consult an on-call physician and would subsequently refer the patient to an ophthalmologist.

Optometrists, which differ from ophthalmologists, primarily perform eye exams and vision tests while the latter can treat a wider range of eye-related medical concerns.

The current waitlist with optometry services in Nunavut being funded by the ISC NIHB is prioritized for eligible residents first. Those who are not covered by NIHB are seen only if the eye team has available time and space to see non-indigenous clients.

There are no licensed optometrists providing a private service in Nunavut. With the wait times in the territory being what they are Sommerville said people should consider arranging appointments if traveling.

“If they travel outside of Nunavut for personal travel, medical travel or duty travel, (Nunavummiut) should consider arranging optometry appointments while in the south.”

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