SASKATOON -- A doctor with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) is calling for more collaboration between Indigenous communities and the province on its COVID-19 response plan as cases in those regions continue to climb.

”I still feel a lot of silos between Indigenous organizations and the (Saskatchewan Health Authority). We’ve been calling for a joint, new collaborative approach to planning as a province,” NITHA Medical Health Officer Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka said.

He said there have been some positive discussions among medical health officers about best practices but he would like to see more cooperation.

Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone said it has been working with the federal government and First Nations leadership since the start of the pandemic. He cited efforts to help with the La Loche COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, calling it “truly a provincial response.”

He said other supports have also been put in place.

“We have added a liaison with First Nations and Métis communities since day one, so as they identify their needs through that group, we respond as best we can to help support them in their efforts,” Livingstone said.

As of Wednesday, NITHA reported 302 active cases in its communities and nine outbreaks.

Ndubuka said getting people to abide by public health orders continues to be a challenge, particularly with masks and socializing.

“So the message really is for individuals to please change their behaviour,” he said.

Travel restrictions have been put in place in some northern communities to help contain the virus.

Dr. Ibrahim Khan, Saskatchewan’s regional medical health officer for Indigenous Services Canada, said that is a necessary step.

“The way we see the progression of the way the virus is moving is it moves with us,” he said.

“In the last three, four months, we have seen that activity, the viral activity, the COVID-19 transmission has expanded from the north to the central around Saskatoon and (Prince Albert) now to the southern communities around Fort Qu’Appelle and the Yorkton areas.”

Khan said the issue is that once it spreads from urban centres to rural communities then to First Nations, it becomes harder to contain as many of those communities are overcrowded.