Igah Sanguya wants people to make the best possible choices for their health, and she tries to give them the information they need to do that.
As a community health representative (CHR) in Clyde River, she promotes monthly health themes – January reviewed the dangers of tobacco while February is sexual health month. There are also periodic weeks devoted to other conditions such as Alzheimer’s and mental health awareness.
She can be heard on local radio weekly, reading Department of Health advisories pertaining to the flu or vaccinations, for example. She also answers people’s health questions during a radio call-in show.
“When people call in and say, ‘I didn’t know that. Thanks for telling me that,’ stuff like that… really gets me wanting to do more,” said Sanguya.
Another of her responsibilities is visiting new mothers to give out baby boxes that contain items like diapers, toiletries, clothing and books. She also shares knowledge on how to avoid sudden infant death syndrome.
Among the general health tips that Sanguya considers to be most important for all Nunavummiut are to eat nutritious foods – country foods among them – get enough rest and avoid smoking, “which is often very hard to do,” she acknowledged in regards to cigarette addiction.
Therefore she finds satisfaction in small victories.
“If I talk about smoking and one person quits, that’s a big plus for me, just one person,” she said. “Or if I see a child coughing and he or she coughs into his elbow, that’s a plus for me. Little things like that gets me up.”
Clyde River has one of the highest immunization rates in the territory and Sanguya is gratified by that as well.
“That’s what I like,” she said.
Constantly dispensing advice means Sanguya feels some pressure to set an example. When she lets her guard down, she can get caught.
“One time I was at the store and behind me there was a young girl. I was buying a can of pop and some chocolate bars for myself. She said, ‘You eat that? You eat that? Really?’” Sanguya recalled with a laugh. “You have to be really careful what you do yourself when you teach the importance of eating well.”
Sanguya, who fills one of 30 CHR positions across Nunavut, transitioned from a clerk/interpreter role with the Department of Health to a CHR. That former job gave her some valuable background and exposure.
“It really helped me because I knew medical (terminology) by then. It really helped my position right now,” she said.
Because medical science is forever evolving and best practices change, CHRs take part in monthly teleconferences and sometimes participate in tele-health sessions to update them on new developments.
“Being in a medical place is very rewarding. I’d like to tell young people out there who are thinking about a medical (career), please pursue it,” she said. “It takes time… go to school, do what you like to do, pursue it and it’s rewarding.”