STD clinic off to a good start
Staff busy with clients, education blitz

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - Yellowknife's first sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic has seen almost 100 clients since it opened in May.

Karen Liedl, director of community health for Yellowknife Social Services, said the organizers of the clinic aren't surprised by the numbers.

"We thought we'd see this level of use," she said.

"From day one, when people heard about the clinic, we've had two to five clients a day. The response from the public affirms the need for the clinic."

The Sexual Health and Risk Reduction Program (SHARP), which provides information and testing on sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, was started after a year of planning. It runs out of the Yellowknife Public Health unit on Franklin Avenue.

Liedl said the clients range in age from about 18 to 30, although they've seen people as young as 14 and as old as 56. Most are women.

Joanne MacKinnon, a public health nurse who helps run the program, said many people who come to the clinic want to be screened for STDs.

"They're entering a relationship or leaving one, and they want a clean bill of health," MacKinnon said. "Or they've had unprotected sexual intercourse, and they're worried."

MacKinnon said chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common STDs diagnosed so far.

According to statistics released by the Department of Health and Social Services, rates of gonorrhea in Yellowknife are six times the national average, while chlamydia rates are seven times the national average.

Liedl said it was too early to tell whether the clinic has affected those rates.

One of the most important tasks of clinic staff is notifying sexual partners of an infected person that they may be at risk for an STD.

"It's very confidential," Liedl said.

"We never tell them who named them as a contact. We just tell them they have been named and should come in for testing."

Education has been another important part of the clinic. The staff has set up displays in the public health unit and social services upstairs.

A T-shirt with the cartoon story of Dick, who got an infection when he didn't use protection, is the star of the education campaign.

"People really enjoy the shirt," MacKinnon said. "I'm surprised it hasn't walked away by now."