Twice as many cases of sexual infections in the Canadian army as in the general population

The sexual health record of our soldiers is nothing shining. Rates of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) among Canadian Army Regular Force members far exceed the Canadian average, according to Cambridge Daily Mirror.

Chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea … The number of cases of reportable diseases, including STBBIs, exploded between 2004 and 2016 among young soldiers, according to National Defense data obtained through the Access to Medicines Act.

Chlamydia alone – the most common infection among Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) soldiers – has more than doubled in 10 years.

In 2016, more than 16 soldiers per 1,000 soldiers between the ages of 16 and 29 contracted chlamydia. This is more than 5 times the 2006 rate, where just over 3 in every 1,000 soldiers were diagnosed positively.

Alarming infection rates

Compared with all Canadian youth, STBBI rates are almost 2 times higher for members under 30 years of age.

For example, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada (2015), 8.6 men aged 15 to 29 out of 1000 had contracted chlamydia.

This rate is much lower than that of soldiers aged 16 to 29, where 15 out of 1000 people are affected by this STBBI, almost twice as much.

For women of the same age group, the situation is reversed. There were 17 out of 1000 chlamydia infected in the civilian population in 2015, compared with 14.6 for women enlisted in the Canadian Forces.

According to Hélène LeScelleur, a former health services manager in the Canadian Forces and a doctoral student in social work at the University of Ottawa, these statistics could be even higher.

She believes that many soldiers choose to consult a doctor in the public sector and not in the military health system. Their cases are therefore not reported to the official authorities.

There is this mentality of wanting to keep all this secret.

Hélène LeScelleur, Former Manager of Canadian Forces Health Services

“Given that the health service is within [the Forces], there may be a fear of going to the people we know to say,” Can I be checked? ? “She says.

Hélène LeScelleur believes that prevention programs are not in question. It is more about the behavior of the military.

“It’s a bit like the idea that if I put my life in danger every day, after that, there is nothing that should reach me,” says the retired captain.

Or accessibility?

For his part, Lieutenant-Commander and Medical Officer in the Canadian Forces Health Protection Branch, Vincent Beswick-Escanlar, attributes this difference between the number of STBBI cases in the military and that in the Canadian population. recurrent screening of affected soldiers during their annual health check.

“A large part of the general population does not have access to a family doctor, compared to the Forces, where three-quarters of young men see a doctor once a year,” he says.

In addition, a person with chlamydia often has no symptoms. “That’s why it’s hard to reduce the number [of cases] from year to year,” says the military doctor.

The documents received do not reveal whether the soldiers contracted chlamydia during missions abroad or in their garrison.

Certainly, in the Defense Administrative Orders and Directives, the Personal Relationships and Fraternization Section very strictly regulates the intimate ties between the military, between a member and an employee or contractor, or with a member of a military service. Allied force.

“Their relationship to work should not [harm] the security, cohesion, discipline or morale of the unit,” reads (section 5.6).

The Canadian Forces do not encourage such relationships and want to prevent them from becoming “damaging”.

But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that soldiers have sex with each other, according to Hélène LeScelleur.

“It happens that there is sex. In fact, there are couples who form on mission. There are people who will come together to relieve themselves, “reports the former Health Services Manager of the Army.

Absence of a national prevention program

If the various public health authorities across the country are trying to make war on STBBIs with many prevention and awareness programs, that does not seem to be a priority in the Canadian Forces.

Condoms are distributed free of charge at Canadian military bases and during missions abroad. But the army has no national prevention and awareness program.

Captain and Medical Officer Beswick-Escanlar indicates that this mandate is instead assigned to each base, who are responsible for implementing prevention initiatives in partnership with local public health services.

“There is always room for improvement. It’s hard to find a magic solution, “he adds.

At the Valcartier base, for example, a program was launched with great fanfare in 2014 to counter this increase in STBBI cases. A specialized nurse is responsible for the program for the prevention and detection of sexual infections.

“According to Valcartier data, the chlamydia rate remained the same. The program has been able to find, detect and treat cases where it made no difference, “said Beswick-Escanlar. “But we see the initiatives happening in each base to find new approaches and innovative solutions. ”

Before deploying overseas, Canadian military personnel also participate in briefing sessions on the risks and illnesses in the countries they visit.

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