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Health minister praises Saskatchewan First Nation for swine flu plan

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COWESSESS, Sask. - Four-year-old Brennan Redwood knows that he needs to wash his hands for as long as it takes to sing the alphabet - about 30 seconds.

The youngster learned the technique at the daycare on the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan as part of the community's efforts to battle swine flu.

"We taught them to sing either 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' or 'ABCs,' " laughed daycare worker Stacy Anaquod.

"They stick with the 'ABC' one, they really like that one. They all take their turns doing it and when it's time to wash up, they all line up and take their turns. They're really aware of it."

Brennan also knows to cough or sneeze into his sleeve.

They are skills he proudly demonstrated for Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Thursday, along with a little fake 'ah-choo.'

Aglukkaq toured the reserve about 170 kilometres east of Regina and lauded officials for their pandemic plan.

"Some of the things that are happening in this community can be used in other parts of the country," said Aglukkaq.

She particularly likes a flag system that has been developed on Cowessess.

Every home on the Cowessess First Nation is getting an infection control kit that contains several different coloured flags to hang on the door. A white flag means everything is OK, but a red flag means that someone in the home is sick.

Alyssa Lerat, the Cowessess community health co-ordinator, said communication is key.

"We wanted to take it back to the basics and if all technology had failed we would be able to communicate with each home," said Lerat. "We will have runners that will go from home to home to check the flags and to respond to the appropriate need.

"These are used so that we don't have some of our frontline workers going into the home and possibly contracting the virus."

The kits will be sent to homes on the reserve beginning next week, said Lerat.

Cowessess Chief Gordon Lerat said the preparation is important because officials recognize the potential impact that H1N1 could have on First Nations people. Lerat said the community's efforts have paid off - there hasn't been a case of swine flu on the reserve so far.

"Zero yet. We're still H1N1 free today," said Lerat.

"I suppose it's our good healthy fresh air and environment around us and being ahead of things when it comes to being hygienic (and) direction from our H1N1 committee that has fed out that information to our community."

Federal health officials say more than 90 per cent of First Nations have a pandemic plan.

Aglukkaq said all the plans are different, but the Cowessess model has worked because it recognizes the need to work together during a pandemic.

"The success of this community has been that they've worked in co-operation, in collaboration with the levels of government and their citizens so it is worth sharing," said the health minister.

"The whole community is involved in this and that is successful."

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