STD clinic set to go
New initiative to lower rates of sexually transmitted disease launched

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 28/99) - Rates of gonorrhoea in Yellowknife are six times the national average across all age groups. Chlamydia is seven times the national average.

After more than a year of planning and $100,000 from the Department of Health's Strategic Initiative Fund, a Sexual Health and Risk Reduction Program (SHARP) is finally under way in Yellowknife.

"Our last two reviews indicated a need for services and programs directed at sexual health, and more specifically, sexually transmitted disease (STD) related issues," said community health director, Karen Leidl. "We certainly knew the desire was there from the community because people were telling us they wanted to have outreach, assessment and treatment services for STDs."

SHARP will provide free, fully confidential services to anyone who requests them. That includes on-site HIV testing and counselling, STD assessments and testing, medication, pregnancy testing and birth control counselling.

The program was designed with the help of a community advisory committee of eight people who work directly with those living in high-risk situations.

"The committee consisted of a group of people who had special skills, knowledge and interest in working with our target population. They are the people on the front lines," Leidl said.

"Our focus is increased awareness and health promotion in the area of sexual issues. That's a common thread running through everything we do under this program."

Medical health officer, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, said they're using SHARP to treat and prevent the spread of disease in Yellowknife.

"To say it's critical would not be an overstatement," Sutcliffe said. "What we know is the clients who are largely at risk from STDs have challenges in accessing the health system. This program will help break down some of those walls."

She said SHARP, which is located in Public Health at the Jan Stirling Centre, will compliment existing services by lowering patient loads and attracting people who wouldn't normally approach existing clinics.

"Many people with STDs go undiagnosed and the risks of that are things like infertility, chronic pelvic infections and other chronic diseases," Sutcliffe said. "The worst case scenario, of course, is HIV and AIDS. We're talking about the whole gamut, from an annoying infection to life threatening disease."

Sutcliffe points out that all sexually transmitted diseases are 100 per cent preventable, but people need knowledge and skills to protect themselves and their partners.

"Down the road, we hope the increased awareness we generate with this program will result in changes in behaviour and lower rates of STDs," Sutcliffe said.

The funding allows for one full-time nurse. Public Health nurse Joanne MacKinnon will be the first to take the reigns of SHARP. It's her job to ensure the public is comfortable accessing the service.

"I'll be making the environment welcoming for our clients and creating a safe non-judgemental space that is flexible," MacKinnon said.

"We respect where people are at. For the most common types of STDs, we can provide the necessary care and treatment. Also, follow up can be provided by one person at one site, which makes it easier for people to approach us."