Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 21, 2013 - 11:45 am

Nunavut aims to improve sexual health

Government action plan calls for improved education, dialogue

SAMANTHA DAWSON
Condoms in specially-designed wrappers are scattered on a table for the launch of the Nunavut health department's sexual health campaign,
Condoms in specially-designed wrappers are scattered on a table for the launch of the Nunavut health department's sexual health campaign, "I Respect Myself," in 2010. Health officials have wanted to promote condom use to cut down on Nunavut's high rate of sexually transmitted infections. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut youth want to know more about sex.

They want information about sexual abuse, symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, the “morning after” pill, contraceptives, condoms, how to deal with unplanned pregnancies, and how to have healthy relationships.

That’s according to the Government of Nunavut’s Sexual Health Framework for Action, for 2012 to 2017, tabled in the legislative assembly March 19 by Keith Peterson, Nunavut’s minister of health and social services.

The sexual action plan’s goal: “to improve and maintain sexual health in the territory.”

When kids call the Kamatsiaqtut helpline, sexual health is what they often want to talk about.

Over 11 years, the focus of those calls have touched on relationships, substance abuse, sexual abuse and other sexual issues, the action plan said.

Community wellness meetings or conferences found that parents don’t talk to their children about family planning or birth control, and principals are reluctant to include sex education in schools without permission from parents.

The bottom line: Nunavut’s sex education isn’t working.

It’s “ineffective,” people said during consultations.

In the territory, the rate of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, is increasing and there is limited Nunavut-specific sexual health education material available to community health representatives and schools, they said in comments cited in the sexual health action plan.

And, “young people do not know how to say no to sex.”

“A repeated barrier to addressing these key areas has been the lack of sexual health education and training opportunities for community health educators,” the sexual health action plan said.

The plan is based on different themes: health promotion, health protection, knowledge and evaluation, and leadership, capacity and collaboration.

It aims at improving sex education in Nunavut by developing a sexual health education program, a resource kit to give to health and education representatives in each community and by providing increased access to safer sex “supplies.”

The plan calls for measures, such as providing more access to counselling in health centres, and partnering with the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy to develop and implement a program to deal with sexual violence and abuse.

The strategy also wants to:

• increase the number of schools teaching sexual health on a regular basis;

• increase the number of Nunavummiut who are vaccinated for HPV and Hepatitis B;

• increase responsiveness to STI outbreaks;

• improve publicly available STI data;

• conduct research on access to safer sex supplies and contraceptives for Nunavummiut;

• gather more information about sexual health in Nunavut;

• create discussion groups about sexuality and birth control, pregnancy planning and sexual abuse, “guided by traditional Inuit values;”

• collaborate across GN departments, as well as with regional Inuit organizations, municipal and federal governments; and

• provide more training for public health workers.

The overarching goal of the strategy, to increase the GN’s capacity to improve sexual health in Nunavut, will happen through “timely and effective implementation” of the action plan.

But there are lots of improvements to make, according to information contained in the action plan document.

In Nunavut, the teen pregnancy rate of young women between 14 and 19 is more than five times the national average.

Of women, 52 per cent reported “severe sexual abuse during childhood.” The figure for men was 22 per cent.

Children in Nunavut under 18 are 10 times more likely than their Canadian peers “to experience sexual violations.”

The rate of gonorrhea is more than 50 times the national average, while chlamydia among Nunavummiut is over 14 times the national average.

While it’s not mentioned in the sexual health action plan, this past February, the GN also alerted the public to a worsening syphilis outbreak in the territory.

A national school-aged children health survey found that about four in 10 Nunavut boys in Grades Nine and 10 reported having sex as did nearly five in 10 Nunavut girls — those rates are both higher than the national rates, the plan noted.

And Nunavut children are having sex earlier — with about twice as many children under the age of 13 having sex as in the rest of Canada.

The good news is, they’re using condoms. Nearly 90 per cent of Nunavut boys and girls in Grades 9 and 10 reported using condoms the last time they had sexual intercourse, but in the rest of Canada, only 74 per cent of boys and 71 per cent of girls of the same age, who are sexually active, reported condom use, the action plan said.

 

 

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