Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut October 21, 2014 - 11:37 am

New research looks at sexual health needs of Arviat youth

"How would you feel comfortable or safe accessing this information?” study will ask

A University of Bergen masters students is looking at the sexual health needs of Inuit youth in Arviat. (FILE PHOTO)
A University of Bergen masters students is looking at the sexual health needs of Inuit youth in Arviat. (FILE PHOTO)

In Arviat, the community with the highest birth rate in Nunavut, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find that sexual health resources are in demand.

Up until now, though, community leaders and health officials haven’t been able to pinpoint those needs.

But over the next few weeks, a health researcher with the University of Bergen in Norway is visiting the Kivalliq community, where he will speak to youth to get a better sense of their sexual health needs.

Noting the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in Nunavut, graduate student Gregory Corosky decided to focus his thesis on sexual health among Inuit in Arviat, where youth aged 20 and under make up more than half the community’s population.

Although there are a number of services that youth in Arviat can access -— from the local health centre, to Inuktitut-speaking mental health workers and online tools developed by the Government of Nunavut —  Corosky said these are not necessarily being used.

“From what I’ve gathered, a lot of young people don’t seem to be using those resources,” he said. “So I’m trying to answer that question: How would you feel comfortable or safe accessing this information?”

Corosky, who used to do sexual health outreach as an undergraduate student in Montreal, said he suspects many of the needs of youth in Arviat will mirror those of young people in southern Canada.

Those can include questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, or how to protect yourself from sexually-transmitted infections and treat symptoms of an infection.

In Nunavut, rates of gonorrhea — a sexually transmitted bacterial infection — have actually dropped in the territory over the last five years.

Chlamydia was the most commonly-reported STI in Nunavut before 2012, when GN health officials identified a syphilis outbreak across the territory.

“For many young people in Arviat, unless you go to the health centre and ask for support, it’s not widely available,” said Shirley Tagalik, the chair of Arviat’s wellness committee, which is assisting Corosky’s research.

“The only time they might get a call is if they have an STI, and that’s not the time you want to hear from them — you’d prefer to do prevention.”

Sexual health is one of the topics Arviat’s wellness committee has had on its “to-do” list, Tagalik said, so Corosky’s research is timely and will help community leaders know where to invest their time and energy.

“One of things we really want to find out is, who are you really comfortable going to get information from? We want to involve parents in this, but there are also a lot of topics that parents and elders wouldn’t know about because it wasn’t a part of their history,” said Tagalik, pointing to STIs or gender identity.

Tagalik said it’s too early to know exactly what Corosky’s research will reveal, although she suspects it will point to a need for more services for Arviat’s young women.

That’s because a good portion of the babies being born in Arviat are born to young mothers. Often Tagalik said, these women are not in solid relationships with the baby’s father, and not all seek prenatal care.

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

Through a series of interviews and focus discussions with Arviat youth over the next few weeks, Corosky will compile a report on his findings and make recommendations on what he thinks would make effective sexual health programming in the community.

That, Corosky said, should be prepared by May 2015.

“We may not get all the answers right away, but we’re creating an opportunity for young people to have this conversation after [Corosky] leaves,” Tagalik said.

“I hope what we find out will be useful to other communities too, but you have to start having this conversation at home first.”

Earlier this year, the Government of Nunavut tabled its Sexual Health Framework for Action for 2012 to 2017 in the territorial legislature.

The plan aims to improve Nunavut’s sex education curriculum — which currently must have parent consent before a student can enroll — by providing resource kits and safer sex supplies.

That plan also calls for measures, such as 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 GN’s plan cites statistics that say 52 per cent of women report sever sexual abuse during childhood, while that figure for men was 22 per cent.

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