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Northerners at risk
Annual health report shows rise in sexually-transmitted infections, high smoking rates

Erin Steele
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 24, 2014

More people are smoking as well as catching sexually-transmitted infections in the Northwest Territories than in the rest of Canada, a new report confirms.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Health and Social Services annual report reveals sexually-transmitted infections are on the rise in the territory, while remaining about 10 per cent above the national average. Susan MacInnis, sexual health nurse with Public Health, shows a condom distributed by the GNWT, which is one method that goes a long way in bringing those numbers down. - Erin Steele/NNSL photo

The Health and Social Services 2012/2013 annual report released last week outlines trends in the territory, noting that although the number of current smokers has declined significantly since 2001, rates are still 16.5 per cent higher than the Canadian national average. STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, are slowly on the rise in the territory and remain 10 per cent higher than the national average.

Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister of health and social services, says addressing these issues takes special consideration as the territory is diverse by nature.

"Some of these negative trends are a lot higher in aboriginal communities. I think, as a department, we've tended to try to design cookie-cutter programs - designed a territorial program that says 'don't smoke' and sent it to every region," DeLancey explained.

"What we've recognized is that the answers have to come from the communities. To let the communities decide what their biggest

concerns are. We need to support them with money and resources to develop solutions that work for their culture, for what their people care about."

While numbers in a report reflect a certain reality, the communities themselves may not recognize there is a problem, said DeLancey.

"We've put a lot of effort into school curriculum, which is helpful, but I don't think as a system we've done enough to develop information resources that are culturally appropriate, plain-language, that people actually understand," she said.

In June 2013, a new division called Aboriginal Health and Community Wellness started up, which will result in a team of regional wellness staff working directly with communities to tackle their most pressing issues on the grassroots level.

"The important thing about the performance reports is it lets us see trends. We can take these trends and break them down regionally and then tackle the issues that are happening in their regions," said DeLancey.

This is the second annual report released by the Department of Health and Social Services, as part of a larger five-year plan in which transparency and accountability are key components.

"When we're investing millions of dollars in public funding, we should be able to say, 'Why do we think this is important? Where is the evidence that this will make a difference?' and then to come back and say, 'Yes, we did achieve the results we thought we would or we didn't, and that tells us something,'" said DeLancey.

The report is available online and outlines six priority areas and the progress made on specific points in each area related to health and social services. It also highlights milestones achieved throughout the year, reports on results, provides an overview of financials and reports on the operations of the government's Medical Care Plan.

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