Thirteen years ago, February 12th became Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Day -- an awareness raising campaign launched by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (now Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights).
The idea behind the day was about assisting health care providers (like doctors, nurses, clinicians and their staff) in promoting sexual and reproductive health in a comprehensive way.
Eventually the day became a week long campaign (SRH Week) and joined the online world with a website and social media pages. Each year focused on a different theme -- from being able to ask questions about your sexual health to accessing information online and knowing how to "heart your parts."
Strides were made and we've come a long way in the last 13 years but a lot is left to do. To this day, one major factor affecting sexual health is the relationship between health care providers and their clients (which include patients). Positive relationships between clients and providers foster better health outcomes and access to services. And on the flipside, negative relationships and experiences have the opposite effect.
Action Canada, in partnership with CPHA, is leading the 2016 national campaign and spent the last year meeting with community advocates and health care providers across Canada to discuss barriers to accessing quality health care that diverse communities and groups face and how we can work together to break these down.
We heard from a lot of different individuals and communities. Everyone had positive and negative experiences to share with tips and solutions to overcome barriers in accessing sexual health services. As health care professionals, we need to recognize how health intersects with people's identities, communities and situations. We need to actively take these factors into account and work together to ensure that everyone is provided with the right care at the right time and in a way that is respectful and empowering.
As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our universal health care system. But the reality is that it isn't reaching everyone. People living with disabilities are often excluded from decision-making when it comes to their health, time and time again sex workers find themselves in situations where their work rather than their health becomes the focus of the conversation, gatekeepers to abortion are spread across our health care system, people living in poverty are turned away, people who use drugs are written off and newcomers and refugees are misunderstood while Indigenous practices are dismissed altogether. On top of it all, racism, fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia and ageism (among other issues) continue to show up in interactions between clients and those who care for them.
Not every experience is negative and there are lots of great examples of health care providers overcoming stigma and offering their clients the support they need. But unless we work together to build the relationships that foster good health, people and communities across Canada will continue to be left out of the "universal" health care system.
So here is what we are doing about it: under the theme "What's Your Relationship Status?" this year's SRH Week campaign offers the tools and information that both health care providers and clients need to build healthy 2-way relationships and to give and receive the best care. It also equips community members and leaders, including health care providers, with tools to enhance local capacity to address what gets in the way of good relationships and to champion a holistic approach to health care. The website includes the voices of health care providers and advocates as well as rights-holders and communities who continue to face barriers - addressing the issues they face and what health care providers can do to make their practices and their clinics more inclusive and welcoming to a greater diversity of people and communities.
While this year's SRH Week considers ways for health care providers to be inclusive and welcoming, it also includes information on how to navigate the Internet for accurate sexual health information, how to prepare for your appointments and have those tough conversations with your doctor, your nurse or other health care professionals. There's information about getting tested for STIs, about your privacy and your human rights. It's all there - information at your fingertips to assist you in getting the care you need.
And now ask yourself, what's your relationship status?
To learn more about Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week and the important relationship between health care providers and health care clients, visit www.srhweek.ca or follow #SRH2016
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