BY JESSICA PETT
Nausea, vomiting, dark urine, pale feces, stomach pain and jaundice; these are all signs of hepatitis C. This disease can lead to liver damage, or even liver cancer. According to healthycanadians.gc.ca, if the body is often under the influence of alcohol, is over the age of 40 or if it has a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection, the liver will become damaged even more rapidly.
The first Sanguen Health Centre started in Guelph and has since also opened in Waterloo Region. It was created in an effort to aid in the treatment of those community members who are living with hepatitis C. Dr. Chris Steingart, an infectious disease physician, realized the need for someone like him and heroically took on the challenge.
A 2005-2010 Hepatitis C Education and Prevention Society Surveillance report found that 690 out of 1,000 Canadian injection drug users have hepatitis C. It was statistics like this that made Steingart and the rest of the team at the Sanguen Health Centre realize that there is always more that can be done. It was clear to them that although their offices were a wonderful way to help community members in need, more could be done for those who were not able to get to those offices. This is how the idea for the “Vanguen,” Sanguen Health Centre’s very first mobile outreach van, was born.
“We know that when we reduce the barriers that stand between people and good health, every member of our community benefits,” the health centre’s website says.
In order for that idea to work, they were going to need money. The centre’s manager of outreach, Violet Umanetz, found a way to jump over that hurdle. Every other month, another local charity called #KWawesome gives out $1,000 to a deserving project, idea or cause. The van had already been up and running since December 2015 but Umanetz had plans to extend its services to
Cambridge and for longer periods of time which would mean there would be a higher demand for supplies. Umanetz jumped at the opportunity and went on to present the idea of the van at one of the foundation’s pitch nights and won.
“We think the Sanguen community health van is awesome – and we felt very strongly that others would agree. When it comes to funding for the van, every amount helps us to provide services to people who need them. We are so proud to have the support of people who live and work in our community – and who agreed that the work we’re doing is valuable,” said Umanetz.
In her speech to KWawesome foundation members, Umanetz said: “People who lived outside of the downtown area of Kitchener told us that they found it particularly difficult to get the services they needed. In a lot of cases, people just gave up. We lost them. It isn’t the fault of the agencies. It isn’t the fault of the clients. But it is a big problem – because everyone should have access to the supports and services that they need in order to be healthy and to be a part of our community. We realized that we needed to expand the work that we do.”
The “Vanguen” travels around Kitchener and just recently, Cambridge, delivering snack packs, safer injection kits for drug users that include 10 of everything a person would need for an injection, safer inhalation kits for crystal meth smokers and even hot chocolate. These kits include items such as syringes, filters, cotton swabs, tourniquets, screens, condoms and lube.
Natasha Campbell, the driver of Sanguen’s new van, is thrilled to be a part of this new undertaking. She has a very accommodating background in more ways than one.
Campbell received her social service worker diploma from Conestoga College and has been a peer outreach worker with Sanguen for three years. She started work as a peer because she used substances when she was younger.
“I think I definitely have a unique perspective like any peer does,” she said. She is now on her way to receiving her addictions care certificate from McMaster.
Campbell, who is also in charge of ordering supplies and putting together the kits, said it is easier to hand out these packages rather than individual items per person depending on need. The demand for the kits is growing and the news about the van is spreading. Campbell said she is beginning to notice many regulars coming to the van to receive services. She carries a cellphone to let those regulars know when and where the van will be as well as responding to delivery inquiries.
“That’s the nice thing about the van … we can go right to people wherever they are,” she said. “We need to adjust our schedule, our times, where we go, according to where people want us to be.”
The van operates in Kitchener from 6:15 to 9:45 p.m. on Thursday nights and in Cambridge from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday nights. To find its exact location or to request a delivery, call Campbell at 519-591-4826.
Money and specific items needed to stock the van can be donated to the Sanguen Health Centre at 29 Young St. E., Waterloo. A list of items needed is located on their website at www.sanguen.com/outreach-program/mobile-van-outreach/.
The centre also holds kit-making groups every Monday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at their clinic.