All residents need information and support to develop and maintain healthy relationships, but youth and young adults have the highest rate of STIs in the NWT.
The commemoration of United Nations World AIDS Day took place on December 1, it is an important opportunity to recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS/sexually transmitted infections (STI) response at the international, national and local levels.
António Guterres is the current Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, as we committed to in the Sustainable Development Goals, will require a continuous collaborative effort,” Secretary-General Guterres said. “The United Nations, Governments, civil society and other partners have been working together to scale up access to health services and to halt new HIV infections. More than 23 million people living with HIV were receiving treatment in 2018.”
Communities around the world are at the heart of this response―helping people to claim their rights, promoting access to stigma-free health and social services, ensuring that services reach the most vulnerable and marginalized, and pressing to change laws that discriminate. As the theme of this year’s observance rightly highlights, “communities make the difference,” Secretary-General Guterres added
“Yet unmet needs remain,” Secretary-General Guterres said. “A record 38 million people are living with HIV and resources for the response to the epidemic declined by $1 billion last year. More than ever we need to harness the role of community-led organizations that advocate for their peers, deliver HIV services, defend human rights and provide support, where communities are engaged, we see change happen. We see investment which has lead to results. And we see equality, respect and dignity.”
“With communities, we can end AIDS,” Secretary-General Guterres said.
Kami Kandola, MD, MPH, CCFP, FCFP, DTM&H, ABPM, ACBOM is the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) with the Department of Health & Social Services for the Government of the Northwest Territories. (GNWT)
“One of the concerns people should have in their mind when we go into the holiday season, we do know that people lack judgment when impaired by alcohol or drugs, they may engage more risky behaviors,” Dr. Kandola said. “So they may not practice safe sex by not wearing any protection.”
The highest distribution of STIs in our population is found primarily in the 15-30 year age group Dr. Kandola says. Although chlamydia is the most common STI in the NWT, there are dramatic increases in gonorrhea and syphilis rate.
“It’s really important that if people do engage in this high-risk behavior that they get tested,” Dr. Kandola said. “Chlamydia remains our number one STI in the NWT. We get an average of 800 cases of chlamydia per year and see about 400 cases of gonorrhea.”
In 2019 Dr. Kandola says there have been 42 confirmed cases of syphilis in the NWT, one of which was a congenital case of syphilis.
“A congenital case of syphilis simply means it was passed from a mother to her unborn child,” Dr. Kandola said. “We have increased our awareness campaigns promoting safe sex, we have also increased condom access for NWT residents, making them available in bars, public health clinics and at local health centres.”
Dr. Kandola says that having multiple sexual partners increases your risk of infection if you are having unprotected sex.
“Infections can also be passed by having oral or anal sex,” Dr. Kandola said. “So depending on what type of sex that someone’s had, it’s really important that they get tested in those sites. Someone may say, well, I’m not at risk, I only had a little oral sex, well, this still puts you at risk especially if you have unprotected sex with multiple people. Therefore, it’s important that when you do see your health care provider that you just let them know.”
In response to these escalating rates, the CPHO has directed front line practitioners to:
- obtain confidential and non-judgmental sexual histories when required;
- appropriate testing of genital and extra-genital sites;
- follow recent updates in treatment regimens;
- perform contact investigations and appropriate treatment of contacts; and
- encourage safer sexual practices with barrier protection.
In addition to this direction, the Yellowknife Region has increased access to patients who would like to get tested for STIs. Patients can text (867-767-9120) for expedited confidential STI screening.
Getting tested should be practiced by residents every three months the CPHO says and is quite simple.
“So we recommend getting tested every three months if you’re engaging in high-risk behavior,” Dr. Kandola said. “And if you have concerns or you have questions, you can always talk to your public health nurse or your community health nurse or text the helpline.”
In spite of the benefits of STI and HIV testing, the fear of stigma and discrimination toward people who catch an STI or are living with a virus such as Herpes or HIV creates a barrier for people getting tested, getting treated and getting important information.
“Breaking down that stigma is vital for ensuring that people access what they need to care for their overall health, including their sexual health,” Dr. Kandola said. “The important thing is, it’s not about shaming them, it’s about allowing someone to take care of their health.”
Dr. Kandola has a recommendation for residents of the NWT
“If you are going to have sex and especially if it’s not someone that you know, if it’s not a long term, monogamous relationship, be safe and practice safe sex.” Dr. Kandola concluded.
For more information on STIs including statistics on Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, and Chlamydia visit: