Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 12, 2013 - 5:23 am

Get tested, protect yourself: Feb. 12 is Sexual and Reproductive Health Day

"If you had unprotected sex, or you think you had unprotected sex, you should get tested"

SAMANTHA DAWSON
Anubha Momin, sexual health program coordinator for the Government of Nunavut says the best way for people to prevent getting a sexually transmitted disease is to get tested regularly and to practice safe sex. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)
Anubha Momin, sexual health program coordinator for the Government of Nunavut says the best way for people to prevent getting a sexually transmitted disease is to get tested regularly and to practice safe sex. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)

More Nunavummiut need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, says Anubha Momin, the sexual health program coordinator for the Government of Nunavut.

That’s her message during Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week, when Feb. 12 is set aside as Sexual and Reproductive Health Day, a day for people to learn more about how to prevent STIs, Momin said.

The number of STI cases in Nunavut remains much higher than the rest of Canada – 15 to 17 times higher when it comes to chlamydia and gonorrhea.

In 2011, there were 1,320 recorded cases of chlamydia and 595 recorded cases of gonorrhea, numbers that were about the same in 2010.

“For a population of just over 30,000, that’s a lot of cases of infections that are actually very, very preventable,” Momin said. 

In Nunavut, STIs occur mostly in young people: young women between 15 and 19, and young men between 20 and 24.

These figures mean that if there were 100,000 people living in Nunavut, 2,000 people would be infected with chlamydia or gonorrhea.

That’s why Sexual and Reproductive Health Day is important to “get people educated and get them talking and aware,” Momin said.

That means learning about what you can do to prevent STIs, learning about symptoms, using safer sex methods and getting tested regularly.

“The idea is that you are getting tested because you want to make sure that you’re not carrying anything, so it’s not only about what you’re doing, it’s what the people you’re sleeping with are doing too,” Momin said.

If left untreated, STIs can cause serious problems like pelvic inflammatory disease, or infertility.

As well, chlamydia and gonorrhea can be passed on from a mother to her child during childbirth and syphilis can be passed to an unborn baby during pregnancy.

That means newborn babies can end up with ear, throat or eye infections and, in severe cases, become blind, deaf or die.

Despite the potential to cause damage, chlamydia and gonorrhea start off with mild symptoms, or none at all, which means “you’re carrying the infection, and you’re potentially passing it on to your partner or your partners without even knowing it.”

The STI’s can produce symptoms like burning when peeing, itchiness, redness, soreness or pain when having sex, Momin said.

As for why the rates are so high in Nunavut, Momin says social issues are major contributors.

“There’s not really one clear answer, but you’re looking at a number of issues that are sort of social issues and lack of education, lack of awareness of what it is to be sexually responsible, and what it is to be, sexually, aware of your rights and ways to protect yourself.”

That’s why she says it’s “very important to stress that people get tested, if you had unprotected sex, or you think you had unprotected sex, you should get tested.”

“It’s that unknowing spread of infection” that raises STI infection rates, she said.

Free condoms are available year-round at Public Health in Iqaluit and at all the community health centres, where people can also get confidential testing for STIs.

Women can book “well-woman” appointments at their health centres or at Public Health in Iqaluit.

You should get tested at least once a year, or even more often if you don’t always use protection.

The simplest, most affordable way to prevent getting or spreading STIs is to use a condom.

And it’s important that men as well as women get tested because they are less likely to show symptoms, Momin said.

“There’s really no other way sometimes to know if you have an STI,” she said.

And you should also be honest with your sex partner, or sex partners and your health care provider, despite the stigma that surrounds talking about STIs, she urges.

“Be honest about your sexuality and your sexual experience. Not everyone’s experiences are going to be the same — and being up front and honest with your partner, your health care provider and yourself is a first step to becoming quite sexually healthy,” Momin said.

You can learn more about STIs and sexual health at the “I respect myself” website.

Nunavut is not the only place in Canada’s Arctic with sky-high STI rates: statistics from 2008 show that 4.4 per cent of Nunavik’s tested positive for gonorrhea, at a rate that’s 55 times higher that in the rest of Quebec, while two per cent of region’s population suffered from chlamydia in 2011.

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