Inuit women’s group hosts hepatitis C gathering in Kuujjuaq next week
“Most people don’t have a clear understanding of what hepatitis C is about”
Inuit may not show high rates of the liver disease hepatitis C, but that’s because there is little Inuit-specific data on it, says Geri Bailey, manager of health policy and programs of Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women’s organization.
That’s why Pauktuutit is hosting a national Inuit strategic planning session in Kuujjuaq Jan. 20 and Jan. 21, she said.
The session will consist of panel presentations on national aboriginal and Inuit specific initiatives, provincial and territorial hepatitis C services, and other resources.
“This is a natural progression for us,” she said.
Nunavut has some of the lowest rates of hepatitis C in Canada, and the other Inuit regions also show low numbers.
But the cause for concern is a lack of education about the risks of getting hepatitis C, a chronic liver disease caused by a virus.
“Most people don’t have a clear understanding of what hepatitis C is about,” Bailey said.
“The whole idea [is] knowing what the risky behaviours are, how to get tested, to get tested if you partake in risky behvaviours, and if need be that you’d get treatment early,” she said.
Members from all four of the Inuit regions plan to attend the planning session: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Inuit HIV/AIDS network, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, Canadian AIDS Treatment Exchange, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
During the Kuujjuaq session, certain priorities will be discussed: prevention and promotion, research and surveillance, testing and health services, care, treatment and support.
That’s important because in the Inuit regions, unprotected sex happens often and drug use is becoming more pronounced, Bailey said.
Hepatitis C can also be spread through unsterilized tattoo needles.
The goal now is to promote awareness about the disease and how to reduce the risk of getting it.
In February of 2012, the organization hosted an Inuit sexual health literacy forum in Happy-Valley Goose Bay in Labrador.
During the forum, delegates met with Pauktuutit’s hepatitis C advisory committee to help develop accurate terminology to increase health literacy among Inuit.
Pauktuutit developed hep C fact sheets in the past, but there wasn’t a funding opportunity to do something specifically on hep C until 2011.
The organization does have an Inuit sexual health plan, “so this is like another section,” Bailey said.
They’ve released pamphlets on the disease, including when to get tested.
In Canada, there are an estimated 242,500 individuals who are infected with hep C.
About 21 per cent don’t know they are infected, because many people with hepatitis C don’t show any symptoms.
Hepatitis C can be spread in the household through sharing sharp instruments such as needles and by sharing personal hygiene equipment such as razors or tooth-brushes with an infected person.