Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik December 01, 2006 - 1:09 pm

Public health doc urges condoms to curb STDs

Nunavik gonorrhea rate 36 times higher than in rest of Quebec

JANE GEORGE

Insist on condoms, not just on Dec. 1, International AIDS Day, but every time you have sex with a new partner, and never, ever share needles if you’re shooting drugs.

Otherwise you run the risk of catching the HIV virus that causes acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome, better known as AIDS, or picking up several other nasty venereal infections.

That’s the warning from Jean-François Proulx, a long-time public health physician for Nunavik.

“People are playing with fire, and people who don’t protect themselves are at risk of infection,” Proulx said.

Statistics show condom use isn’t popular in Nunavik.

“The simple fact that we have high rates of sexually transmitted illnesses tells us the region is very slow to adopt preventive measures,” Proulx said.

That could be one reason why the infection rate for gonorrhea is 36 times higher in Nunavik than the rest of Quebec.

This sexually transmitted disease, which can lead to sterility and complications in pregnancy, reached near epidemic levels earlier this year along the Hudson Bay coast.

Likewise, the number of chlamydia infections in Nunavik also rose in 2006. Chlamydia is another cause of infertility and problems during pregnancy.

Hepatitis C, a sometimes fatal disease that causes an inflammation of the liver, is often acquired from sharing needles. Since 1988, Hepatitis C has also appeared in Nunavik, with about two new cases every year.

From 2002 to 2005, public health officials recorded four HIV/AIDS cases in Nunavik. Province-wide, there is now one person infected with HIV/AIDS in Nunavik, and three among Inuit in Montreal.

There could be more HIV/AIDS cases among Nunavimmmuit, Proulx said, because some residents fear taking the test, although its results are kept confidential.

In southern Quebec, most new HIV/AIDS infections are caused by residents taking illegal drugs by injection, or by sexual contact.

In Nunavik, Inuit, whether or not they travel to the South, must start protecting themselves, Proulx said.

“It’s not the travel itself, but the practice of having unprotected sexual relations or exchange of dirty needles. These are the two practices that increase risk, whether you travel or not,” Proulx said.

Worldwide, HIV and Hepatitis C infections show no signs of slowing down.

Some 4.3 million people became infected with HIV this year, says a recent United Nations epidemic report, with a heavy concentration among young people, bringing the total number of infected to an estimated 39.5 million.
And Inuit are far from immune to HIV/AIDS. By the end of 2004, Greenland, with about the combined population of Nunavut and Nunavik, had reported 137 HIV infections, 48 AIDS cases and 48 AIDS deaths.

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