It Starts with the Youth: Improving Sexual Health Care in Canada

group of young people in front of white background

Guest post by Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada

It is no secret that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on youth in Canada. As I have highlighted in my latest annual report, school closures, increased unemployment, limited access to services, and prolonged physical distancing measures have meant that youth have experienced isolation,  mental health challenges, and potentially unsafe home environments.

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on Sexually Transmitted Blood Borne Infection (STBBI) related services

To better understand the wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is conducting a series of online surveys regarding access to, and the delivery of, Sexually Transmitted Blood Borne Infections (STBBI) related services. These surveys will provide us with important information to better understand STBBI trends in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, we hope to learn more about the barriers on access to STBBI services and insight into the innovative practices across Canada that are being used to deliver STBBI services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Select results from the STBBI Service Provider survey are available on PHAC’s Infobase Data Blog.

Increasing rate of STBBI among youth in Canada

Prior to the pandemic, we witnessed an alarming increase in the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis amongst youth in Canada. For example, between 2009 and 2018, females aged 15 to 19 years old recorded nearly a 1768 per cent increase in syphilis rates. This was not an isolated event. Between 2014 and 2018, Hepatitis C rates also increased 14 per cent and 27 per cent amongst males and females, respectively, aged 15 to 29 years.

To achieve success in lowering these rates, sexual health services should be adapted to the needs of young people and address the unique challenges they face when accessing care. Innovative technologies and tools such as online screening services and self-testing may promote greater access in harder-to-reach populations. Engaging youth throughout the development of these initiatives will be integral to ensuring that they are effective.

Promoting access to youth-friendly resources

With youth spending more time online, the need for accurate and youth-friendly online resources is also more important than ever. Parents, health care providers, and educators play an important role in providing youth with accurate information, tools, and resources. The Sexually Transmitted Infections Booklet for Youth is a helpful resource that discusses STI signs and symptoms, testing, and prevention mechanisms, and provides guidance for making informed decisions.

Empowering youth

Despite the many challenges they have faced, youth have demonstrated tremendous resilience, resourcefulness and leadership during this difficult time.

As we recognize Sexual and Reproductive Awareness Week, which runs from February 8-14, 2021, I encourage you to think about the unique needs of our young people. When youth feel comfortable talking about sexual health in a stigma-free environment, they are more likely to seek and receive the care they need. Together we can support youth in playing an active role in shaping their care, adopting positive sexual health behaviours, and reducing STBBI in Canada.

Posted on 2021-02-08
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