Poster campaign hopes to educate Island youth about STIs
'It’s really important for youth to be able to feel like they can own their own education'
The Island's PEERS Alliance is launching a new campaign called Clearing the Air aimed at informing youth and helping break down stigma surrounding sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
PEERS Alliance, formerly AIDS P.E.I., is a P.E.I. group that supports those living with and at risk for HIV, hepatitis C and all sexually transmitted infections by offering programs and services for diverse communities.
"What we're seeing is, a lot of youth going on the internet or learning about sexual health from porn or from places where it's not necessarily the best place to learn about these things," said Rory Starkman, the youth project co-ordinator for the organization.
The campaign has brought together five youth aged 16 to 24 who are putting together artful information posters.
The art will eventually be translated into a social media campaign on Facebook and Instagram.
'Really passionate about this'
"The group that came together, they came together because they're really passionate about this issue whether it's because they're studying health or because they've had personal experience," said Cybelle Rieber, executive director at PEERS Alliance.
"In particular on P.E.I. I think it's important right now — because a lot of youth have expressed that sexual-health education isn't very prevalent or isn't necessarily done in an effective way in their schools," Starkman said.
Starkman said they believe it is important that initiatives like this are led by young people themselves.
"With what we're doing — because it's by, for and about Island youth — it's that much more important that these folks who we are connecting with are their age, and helping everybody learn about sexual health," Starkman said.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea on the rise
The posters will feature visual art created by the volunteers over the 10-week program and will tackle sexually transmitted infections like HIV, chlamydia and the hepatitis C virus, Starkman said.
Chlamydia in particular is on the rise on the Island as well as across Canada, according to the P.E.I. Department of Health and Wellness.
As we learn more we can target the education around that — in terms of testing and prevention— Dr. Heather Morrison
The latest data shows that 329 cases of chlamydia were treated in 2017. About 235 of those were people aged 20 to 34, and 62 cases were Islanders 20 and under.
Rates of gonorrhea on the Island more than doubled between 2012 and 2017 — from eight cases to 18 — according to the province.
"The prevention is going to be really important and using a condom is of course one of the key methods. And also the importance of being tested and being tested regularly," said Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer.
Within the next several months, the province also plans to look at possible reasons for the increased number of cases of chlamydia in the province.
"Over the next number of months we're trying to understand that a little bit more, understand the risk factors and as we learn more we can target the education around that — in terms of testing and prevention," Morrison said.
Education and creativity
The group began to meet in early November 2018 and will finish by the middle of February with the hopes of rolling out the campaign by March.
"You didn't have to necessarily be a professional artist for this to sign up for the program — just have a general interest in art."
The project has allowed the young people involved to explore different visual art mediums like zine-making and body mapping while learning about sexual health, Starkman said.
"We have some youth who are very talented caricaturists and a photographer who may be potentially using their photos," Starkman said.
Schools and churches
PEERS Alliance plans to ask the Public Schools Branch, Holland College and UPEI to approve the posters so it can put them up.
Starkman plans to put up dozens of posters at P.E.I. coffee shops, bars, schools and churches — places where youth typically hang out.
"For the most part it was just a fun kind of activity to get them thinking about sexual health with regards to the body but also with regards to … accessibility to sexual health," Starkman said.
PEERS Alliance hopes to put on a launch event for the campaign.
"I think it's really important for youth to be able to feel like they can own their own education," Starkman said.
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