Health officials are trying to stop the spread of hepatitis and HIV in the northwest.

The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority say Hepatitis C has been on the rise over the last couple of years and believe part of the problem is increased opiate abuse and the likelihood of more people sharing needles.

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Dr. Kathy Pouteau chairs a working group that deals with sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. She said a new ad campaign will encourage people to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and tell people how to reduce their risk of infection if they choose to use drugs. (Brent Wesley)

Dr. Kathy Pouteau, a physician at Kasibonika Lake First Nation, said a new awareness campaign being launched this week carries an overarching message:   

"Respecting yourself and respecting others. And then getting more specific around ensuring ... that if somebody is using drugs, to ensure they have clean equipment each time that they're using."

The campaign — which is endorsed by First Nations chiefs in the region — also emphasizes the importance of using protection to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Pouteau chairs a working group that deals with sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. She said the region-wide ad campaign will also encourage people to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and will tell people how to reduce their risk of infection if they choose to use drugs.

‘Empower’ people

"What we were seeing is a ... change in the pattern of drug use in this area ... and so we're really trying to ... inform people and empower them to ... make the choices to help protect themselves as well as protecting the people around them," Pouteau said.

The campaign, called "Get Informed. Get Tested," launched on Monday afternoon in Sioux Lookout.

"The campaign will feature culturally relevant print and radio advertisements over the next couple (of) months in regional media," a press release from the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority said.

"It will also include postcards, audio and video PSAs for distribution to First Nations communities."

Pouteau said staff will also do as much in-person outreach as they can, including going to events like hockey games and schools.

"I think there's been some good messaging around ensuring that people aren't sharing needles," Pouteau added.

"But... needles aren't the only ... potential source of infection ...  Any of the (drug-related) equipment that people might use and — whether it's the water or the spoon or the filter, or anything else — it's really important to be ensuring that all of that is for single-use, single-person only."