Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week is an important opportunity to draw attention to a fundamental part of our overall health and well-being: sexual and reproductive health. The theme for this year is Advocacy in Action, and as Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, advocating for the health and well-being of all people living in Canada is central to my work. Advocacy in its many forms is crucial to achieving our collective vision of a stronger public health system where sexual and reproductive health and healthcare is accessible to everyone.
Advocacy in Public Health
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the access to, and delivery of, services for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs), particularly for communities already at greater risk for STBBIs and COVID-19. These health inequities can lead to negative health outcomes, including for sexual and reproductive health.
Addressing the social and economic barriers to good health, such as poverty and stigma, is vital to ensuring that all people in Canada have an equal opportunity to be healthy. My latest report on the State of Public Health in Canada, A Vision to Transform Canada's Public Health System, emphasizes the need for a strengthened public health system that is centred on health equity. Prioritizing inclusion of diverse voices at decision-making tables is fundamental to enacting an equity-driven approach.
Health professionals can be advocates for the health of their patients. It starts with creating safer and non-judgmental environments in which patients can share openly and honestly, regardless of their age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Safer spaces help us to have more impactful conversations that empower people to take control of their sexual and reproductive health, including by getting tested for STBBIs. I encourage health professionals to consult the STBBI: Guides for Health Professionals for guidance on the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of STBBIs of national health importance. If you screen for one STBBI, screen for all.
Advocacy in Outreach
Unfortunately, rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Canada are increasing. Connecting people with sexual and reproductive health resources, including testing for STIs, is essential to improve the state of sexual and reproductive health in Canada. This is a form of advocacy that we can put into action at all levels.
The Government of Canada is committed to eliminating STBBIs as a public health concern by 2030, as outlined in the Five-Year Action Plan on STBBIs. To this end, we are working with and supporting community-based organizations, Indigenous partners, provinces and territories, researchers, and the health sector to prevent new infections and reduce the impact of STBBIs. The federal government is also investing in community-based organizations working to make sexual and reproductive health services accessible to under-served populations. We recognize the invaluable work these organizations are doing across Canada to reach and connect people to the sexual and reproductive health resources and services they need, and ensure no one is left behind during these unprecedented times.
Advocacy in Action
As individuals, advocating for our own sexual and reproductive health is a form of self-care. Sexual health and wellness means being informed, understanding consent, and having a positive and respectful approach to sexual relationships free of stigma, coercion or violence. Take action today by talking to a healthcare provider about getting tested, and learning about preventing, managing and treating STBBIs.
Together, as community members, decision-makers, public health officials, and health care providers, we must work in partnership to create healthy environments, ensure access to care, and commit to eliminating inequalities and inequities. Advocating for an approach that is rooted in addressing health inequities and the social determinants of health is key to ensuring our post-pandemic future is different than our pre-pandemic past.