Portions of an Alberta strategy to combat the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STI) have already been implemented, and there is much more to come, officials say.
Alberta Minister of Health and Wellness, Gene Zwozdesky believes the province needs to respond swiftly and aggressively and their strategy does just that.
“Speaking primarily about sexually transmitted infections, Alberta has the highest rate of STIs in the country and that is simply unacceptable,” he said.
Along with the heightened rates of STIs, Alberta also has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in the country, which leads to infant deaths and birth defects.
“We can, we must and we will reverse this trend.”
A five-year coordinated strategy is being launched to drive down the rates not only of STIs but also of blood borne pathogens (BBP) including Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.
The strategy involves five primary goals including prevention, early detection and diagnosis, management and control, support through Health Link for infected and affected people as well as increased staging and infrastructure to support the plan.
Four million dollars will be put towards the goals in each of the next three years and years four and five will see funding as well.
The campaign slogan, “Don’t you get it,” is going to start out in part one of the action plan on TV and in radio ads as well as on posters and washroom boards in bars and nightclubs.
Dr. André Corriveau, chief medical officer of health, said as of March 31 of this year, 56 adults have been diagnosed with syphilis since 2005 and some have suffered permanent damage including one who is entirely blind.
“Most Albertans are completely unaware of the risks that they’re taking, nor do they know how serious the consequences can be.”
Corriveau stressed the fact that STIs are non-discriminating and affect people in all economic levels and centres.
The age group most at risk is between 15 and 24.
The goal, by 2016, is to have the rates of STIs and blood borne pathogens bellow the country’s average and to have increased screening and treatment facilities to keep an outbreak from occurring.
Corriveau explained that some of the goals are to eliminate all cases of congenital syphilis, to reduce cases of syphilis from 7.7 people out of 100,000 to 5.8, cases of gonorrhea from 42.8 per 100,000 to 40, and chlamydia to below 310 per 100,000.
“I believe we’re on the right path and I’m confident we will drive our rates down to be the lowest in the country,”
Senior Provincial Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Gerry Predy, said that the primary focus initially is to minimize the outbreak right now and screening and testing will be more important.
There will be three new STI clinics in the province, one in Edmonton, Calgary, and Fort McMurray.
“One thing to caution is that with the increased testing there could be a year of increased cases reported and found,” he said.
Zwozdesky said that the plan is a province-wide plan but will be tailor-made to individual communities who have specific needs based on their population.
Part two of the campaign should be started in the next couple of weeks and annual reports will continue to be made regarding the status of Alberta’s STIs and blood borne pathogen rates.
“We have to get the message out there that you can take precautions to prevent these diseases from befalling you,” said Corriveau.
For more information on The Alberta Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and Blood Borne Pathogens (BBP) Strategy and Action Plan 2011 – 2016 go to www.health.alberta.ca.