“The outbreak in remote Northern Australia, including over 500 cases in Queensland since the outbreak commenced in 2010, indicates a need for greater funds to deal with sexual health and greater allocation of research money to combat syphilis, other blood borne viruses (BBVs) and STIs.”
Sandy Gillies, General Manager, Policy Innovation and Service Development of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC),
Queensland’s peak Aboriginal and Islander health body has called for changes to health screening and increased investment into sexual health in the face of Australia’s biggest reported syphilis outbreak in thirty years.
Picture above :In 1987Condoman very quickly became an iconic figure for sexual health and the prevention of HIV/AIDS within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The message “Don’t Be Shame Be Game” has reached generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it was culturally-based.
“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector is not funded for specific sexual health/BBV programs, but our member services ensure that sexual health and BBVs are not overlooked”, said Sandy Gillies.
“However in light of these alarming new statistics it is clear that specific sexual health/BBV programs need to be established and funded by Governments. We need dedicated sexual health workers and sexual health/BBV programs in all members’ services.
“And given what we now know about the demographics of this outbreak we need some changes to the regime of health screening being regularly offered to our people,” said Sandy Gillies. “Adult health checks need to include a mandatory sexual health screening for blood borne viruses including syphilis and HIV and importantly, given the reported deaths of three infants from congenital syphilis, where the infection is passed from a mother during pregnancy and/or birth onto the infant, all ante-natal patients should be encouraged to have a syphilis, HIV and STI screening. Young people 15 -24 also need to be screened regularly.
“In addition, there needs to be better engagement and involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the outbreak response, especially in areas where the outbreak is occurring and adjacent areas.”
Sandy Gillies said the recent formation of an Engaging Aboriginal Communities subgroup in a Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Committee was a good start to improving the response and he looked forward to QAIHC being able to facilitate engagement between medical authorities trying to limit the outbreak and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities affected.
“Overcoming this outbreak will require collaboration between our sector and Queensland Health and some additional resources,” said Sandy Gillies. “The outbreak is a serious indictment on sexual health clinical care outcomes with the infectious syphilis notification rate in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population 300 times higher than the non-Indigenous population in remote areas during 2014.”
“Only four years ago the Medical Journal of Australia was reporting the likelihood of syphilis being eliminated in remote Australia and yet today it is reported that we are undergoing the biggest outbreak in thirty years.
“This shouldn’t happen in one of the world’s richest countries and I remain very confident that if some simple steps are undertaken we can get back on top of this issue,” Sandy Gillies concluded.
Background to Condoman
In 1987, the Grim Reaper sexual health campaign was launched Australia wide. The adverts featured the image of a grim reaper “bowling over innocent victims” in a bowling alley and spread images of fear and shame around sexual health and specifically HIV/AIDS.
Whilst this campaign was very effective at spreading fear of HIV, it did nothing to empower people to make their own sexual health decisions, and take control of their own sexual health. The effect of the campaign was an acknowledgement that HIV was in the community, and it was something to be feared if people did not use condoms.
In response to these adverts, Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood – an Aboriginal Sexual Health Worker in Townsville, recognised that the Grim Reaper adverts did nothing to promote sexual health within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Her fear was that the current sexual health education did not reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait people at a cultural level, and therefore was not appropriate for her community.
In 1987, Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood, with a number of other Aboriginal Sexual Health Workers in Townsville, worked on developing a sexual health resource which was culturally-based. Through their hard work, foresight and imagination – Condoman was created, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Condoman very quickly became an iconic figure for sexual health and the prevention of HIV/AIDS within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The message “Don’t Be Shame Be Game” has reached generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it was culturally-based.
In 2009, Condoman was relaunched by Brendan Leishman (Health Promotion Officer – 2 Spirits Project), with the support of Queensland Health and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC). The image of Condoman was rebranded and updated. A range of resources were launched including key rings, comic books, posters, condom packs and a Facebook page.