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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
CANADA: Inuit Health Group is Giving Voice and Vocabulary to Sex Terms in Inuktitut
Alex Ballingall
November 21, 2012
Toronto Star (11.17.12)

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a nonprofit organization that addresses social health issues in aboriginal communities, has released a 25-page glossary of terms relating to sexual health vocabulary for persons who speak Inuktitut. Among the 53 Inuit communities in Canada, more than 35,000 people speak Inuktitut as a first language, but the language lacked specific terms and phrases relating to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV/AIDS. This was seen as a barrier to public health. Geri Bailey, Pauktuutit’s manager of health policy and programs, explained that there were no consistent definitions. She stated that the lack of terms to describe the illness accurately leaves patients at risk of not understanding clearly. Bailey added that cancer and HIV translated the same way in some dialects to mean that you have a terminal illness and you are going to die. Also, many anatomical references were unspecific and confusing. Pauktuutit held a summit for Inuktitut language experts, elders, community workers, and health providers. They defined 56 terms clearly relating to STIs, HIV/AIDS, and the specifics of human anatomy in four major dialects of Inuktitut. The result is the booklet, “Tukisiviit—Do You Understand Sexual Health?” which is now available to the public after 18 months of work and a Canadian federal government grant of $269,000. Copies have been distributed to schools, social service centers, clinics, and hospitals across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, northern Quebec, and Labrador. Tracy O’Hearn, Pauktuutit’s executive director, noted that Inuit communities have some of the highest rates of STIs in Canada. According to a government report on STIs, in Nunavut, where more than two thirds o f Canada’s Inuktitut-speaking people live, the rate of chlamydia infection in 2008 was more than 15 times that of the national average and the rate of gonorrhea was more than 30 times the national average.

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