NACCHO Aboriginal #SexualHealth News Alert : @sahmriAU #NT #QLD #WA #SA Syphilis outbreak : New #YoungDeadlySyphilisFree TV and Radio campaign launched today 9 September @atsihaw : Plus @researchjames article

 ” SAHMRI launches Phase 2 of its Young Deadly Syphilis Free campaign today, with two new TV commercials screening in syphilis outbreak areas across Queensland the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. Radio snippets will also be broadcast, in English and local languages.”

Watch here 

No 2 Watch here 

Medical experts describe the top end’s syphilis epidemic as a “failure of public health at every level of government .

As an infectious syphilis epidemic continues to ravage northern Australia – now threatening the lives of newborn babies – Indigenous sexual health specialist James Ward is leading a campaign to help remote communities. By Michele Tydd.

From The Saturday Paper see in full Part 2 Below

Aboriginal #Sexualhealth News : 

NACCHO is co-leading a coordinated Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) $8.8 million response to address the #syphilis outbreak in Northern Australia. @Wuchopperen @DanilaDilba @TAIHS__

Read over 40 Aboriginal Sexual Health articles published over past 6 years

Part 1 : The TV and radio syphilis campaign will build on messaging developed for Phase 1 of the campaign, which ran until March this year.

Once again the campaign will be strongly supported by social media, with regular Facebook posts, Divas Chat advertising  and promotion on our website www.youngdeadlyfree.org.au featuring all new video clips and infographics.

The campaign promotes whole communities’ involvement in tackling syphilis as a public health issue along with other STIs, and has involved young people, clinicians and people of influence such as parents and extended family members/carers.

New clinician resources for those practising in remote communities will also be developed over the next year, promoting appropriate testing to those most at risk, including testing of antenatal women during pregnancy.

Have a look at the TV commercials and a couple of the new short videos by clicking the images below OR access them on the syphilis outbreak webpages at http://youngdeadlyfree.org.au/

Problems downloading the videos?

Contact SAHMRI at kathleen.brodie@sahmri.com for a USB containing Young Deadly Syphilis Free videos, as well as STI and BBV resources developed for the Remote STI and BBV Project – Young Deadly Free; and HIV resources developed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week – ATSIHAW.

Phase 1 Rescreened

No 2 Watch Here 

The Young Deadly Syphilis Free campaign is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Part 2 As an infectious syphilis epidemic continues to ravage northern Australia – now threatening the lives of newborn babies – Indigenous sexual health specialist James Ward is leading a campaign to help remote communities.

By Michele Tydd

While the federal government committed $8.8 million this year to fight an ongoing syphilis epidemic sweeping Australia’s top end, many prominent sexual health physicians and academics claim the money is too little too late.

From The Saturday Paper 

“Every day there are more cases, so we are not seeing a downward trend yet,” says Dr Manoji Gunathilake, who heads up a government-run health service known as Clinic 34.

Gunathilake is the Northern Territory’s only specialist sexual health physician. She says local health workers are ramping up testing as part of a fight to contain the infection, which particularly affects young sexually active Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the territory. However, it seems those measures are struggling to contain the STI’s spread.

Nearly seven years ago, an increase in syphilis notifications showed up in north-west Queensland. The outbreak soon moved across to the NT, then to Western Australia and more recently into South Australia. So far, more than 2100 cases – evenly split between males and females – have been recorded across the affected zones.

However, the key concern for health-care professionals is the potential health consequences for babies born to women with the infection. Syphilis is primarily spread through sexual contact, but it can also be passed from mother to baby. Since 2011, six babies have died from congenital syphilis – the latest death came in January this year in northern Queensland. The STI also carries antenatal risks, increasing the chance of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Darren Russell, a Cairns-based associate professor of medicine at both James Cook University and the University of Melbourne, has been working in sexual health for 25 years. He describes the top end’s syphilis epidemic as a “failure of public health at every level of government”.

He says he’s not sure whether the outbreak could have been prevented entirely. However, he believes there was an opportunity for public health officials to stop it from escalating.

“The first case occurred in the Gulf country of north-west Queensland in January 2012 and the first Northern Territory cases weren’t found until July 2013,” says Russell. “There was a window of opportunity in 2012 to work with the affected local communities and to fly in extra nurses, doctors and Indigenous health workers to do some good culturally appropriate health promotion. But nothing at all happened, absolutely nothing as the epidemic spread.

“The first Queensland state funding to deal with the now widespread epidemic was rolled out in 2016, more than five years after the epidemic began, and the first Commonwealth money has only been allocated this year.”

Russell says he could not imagine the same happening if a deadly epidemic broke out in a major city.

“For years now a multijurisdictional syphilis outbreak committee has been coordinating the response largely without additional resourcing to reach people most at risk,” says Associate Professor James Ward, an Indigenous researcher and sexual health specialist who heads the Aboriginal infection and immunity program at SAHMRI (the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute) in Adelaide. Ward has been working behind the scenes for years, trying to bring more attention and funding to this outbreak.

“Workforce is certainly an issue because syphilis is an infection that not many clinicians have been exposed to in clinical practice and this is further exacerbated by a high turnover of staff in remote communities,” he says. “Community awareness and understanding of the infection has been very low, so we have been recently trying to get the message out on the internet and social media”.

The multi-strategy STI awareness-raising campaign urging people to be tested is targeted at the 30,000 young people aged between 15 and 34 in affected outbreak areas through the website youngdeadlyfree.org.au/syphilis as well as a dedicated Facebook page.

“We’ve also been tapping into online chat programs young people are using in remote areas such as Diva Chat,” says Ward.

Since the 1940s, penicillin has been used to successfully treat the syphilis infection, although people can become reinfected. While deaths in adults are now rare, the consequences can be dire for babies born to mothers who have been infected at some stage either before or during the pregnancy.

“There is a wide range of quite sinister pathology in babies born with syphilis,” says Professor Basil Donovan of the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, who has been treating syphilis cases for nearly four decades.

Some babies are merely snuffly and miserable, sometimes with heavily blood-stained nasal discharge. Others can suffer neurological damage and bone deformities that can cause great pain when they move their limbs.

Donovan says that, for the past 60 years, every pregnant woman in Australia should have been routinely tested for syphilis. “The big difference between adults and babies is that all the damage is done before they are born,” he says. “If there is more syphilis about, then catastrophe becomes inevitable.”

Syphilis, caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, is an infection primarily spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.

The first sign in adults is most likely a painless sore on the skin, normally where the bacteria has entered the body during sexual intercourse – in the genital area or in the mouth.

Secondary syphilis occurs about six weeks later with symptoms that include a general feeling of being unwell, a rash on the hands, feet or other parts of the body. Soft lumps might also develop on the warm, moist areas of the body such as the genitals and around the anus. Symptoms can often be dismissed as being due to flu or cold.

Outward symptoms of secondary syphilis, such as the initial sores, will disappear without treatment, but the person affected will still have latent syphilis.

The third stage, known as early and late latent syphilis, which may develop any time between one and 30 years later, can seriously affect the brain, spinal cord or heart and – rarely now – can lead to death.

“Before penicillin, syphilis was a terrible way to die,” says Donovan. “In about a third of those who contracted it, it would go on to cause serious neurological or brain disease, spinal disease or heart problems particularly with the aorta.

“That said, even now one in about 30 per cent who get syphilis will get some neurological disease. All of us clinicians have got patients who might have lost sight in one eye or gone deaf in one ear as a result.”

Donovan stresses the current outbreak in the top end has nothing to do with sexual behaviour. “[Residents in these regions] have the same number of partners [as the broader population] so very high levels of STIs including syphilis are more the result of failure in health-care delivery,” he says.

Gunathilake says the NT has seen more than 800 cases of infectious syphilis since the outbreak began. She wants to help build an educated and stable workforce, especially to support the remote clinicians.

“In these remote areas health-care workers don’t tend to say for long periods so it’s important to train and update new staff members quickly,” she says.

Work is also being done in community engagement by producing promotional material in several Indigenous languages to help people better understand the importance of testing and treatment as well as tracing and informing sexual partners.

“Going home and passing on the diagnosis to sexual partners is very difficult for anybody and much more challenging in any close-knit community,” says Gunathilake.

“Many people regardless of background feel ashamed about having STIs and they don’t want to tell anyone, so it is a psychological burden, but our staff are trained to help people in this situation.”

She says contact tracing can be more difficult for people who have casual or anonymous partners. Gay men are represented in the NT outbreak, but only in relatively small numbers.

A spokeswoman for the federal government says the first round of the federal money has gone to three urban Aboriginal health-care centres in Cairns, Darwin and Townsville, which will roll out a new “test and treat” model at the point of care.

The next phase of funding is expected to be directed at remote communities.

There is no indication when this outbreak will start to retract, says Basil Donovan, who was working as a doctor during the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s. This is because once STIs outbreaks take off, they don’t just cycle through like a flu epidemic. “It takes at least five to 10 years to get a major outbreak under control, and part of that involves a permanent [health-care] workforce to develop trust,” he says. “People flying in and flying out won’t even touch the sides.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 8, 2018 as “Into the outbreak”. Subscribe here.

NACCHO Aboriginal #SexualHealth : No point in a one-size-fits-all fix for #STIs in #remote communities @AMSANTaus @CAACongress @Apunipima @TheAHCWA @atsihaw

” The varying incidence of sexually transmitted infections in the ­Aboriginal populations in remote Australia presents a number of challenges to the Australian health system.

The identification of persons with STIs is not straightforward — and sometimes extremely difficult — in remote areas.

The diseases range from rare and difficult to treat, to endemic and even more difficult to treat. Those that are easy to treat remain a problem because of the ways in which the infectious burden develops in these populations.

These are difficult, long-term issues that only a few dedicated services are tackling.

These ser­vices are not helped by prurient and muddled media interest, the ­Aboriginal men and women who for their own reasons deny the existence of these problems and retreat to life-threatening but comfortable slogans, and least of all, the negligence of successive governments whose responsible leaders have responded too slowly and with too few resources for an effective response by the frontline workers.”

Marcia Langton is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, Australian Indigenous Studies, at the University of Melbourne.

Read over 38 NACCHO Aboriginal Sexual  Health articles published over past 6 years

Three animated education and awareness videos focus on HIV, STIs and PrEP (a daily medication that can prevent HIV), which aim to enhance awareness of HIV prevention. These are housed on the website  www.atsihiv.org.au,

Watch 1 of 3 Videos HERE

It is wrong to conflate the incidence of STIs with sexual abuse. To make this clear: it is not the case that all cases of STIs in ­minors are the result of sexual contact or abuse.

The rush to recommend removal of Aboriginal children from their families is an unwarranted response, and has become the catchcry of those building their careers on serious health issues that have become salacious fodder for the media and very significant threats to developing protocols for treating these continuing disease threats to ­extremely vulnerable people.

The question of whether to remove children is secondary to the question of immediate medical treatment.

Ascertaining how the STIs are being spread — by interviewing children — is the work of professionals and needs to be undertaken with caution and care.

Some proportion of the sexual activity involves only children and not adults. When only children are involved, different steps need to be taken.

When adults are involved in sexual activities with children, a different set of steps must be under­taken. Is the adult offender living in the household? Visiting the household? In what circumstances does the offender gain access to the child?

It would be ridiculous to have a one-size-fits-all approach to this very difficult problem. Medicos working in the Territory under the Northern Territory Emergency Response schemes were well aware of these problems but unable to speak because of the issues of confidentiality of patients and maintaining the confidence of ­patients and communities to present to clinics.

The rates of STIs among Aboriginal children in the NT must be treated as a medical matter for professionals. In the absence of a Centre for Disease Control (as recommended by the Australian Medical Association), the Office of Health Protection in the federal Department of Health has some responsibility for communicable diseases.

If I were in a responsible position, I would ask the Office of Health Protection to co-operate with the ­Aboriginal medical ser­vices bodies, such as Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the Northern Territory and Queensland health departments, and put together medical teams to test and treat Aboriginal children in the affected areas in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

All children in school should have sex education and STI education, and the educational material should be in their own languages. They and their parents need to be aware of the consequences of untreated STIs: infertility, mortality, brain damage and others. Other infectious diseases, such as trachoma, have been treated with similar approaches involving better co-ordination of existing services.

The federal, Northern Territory and Queensland governments are negligent in the extreme in allowing this situation to worsen over the past 10 years. It has been reported regularly and extensively in the past decade by medical professionals from various health entities, including the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, and the responsible ministers and officers run for cover rather than taking the necessary steps to treat children for these diseases.

In this context, I have previously said that the complaints from some Aboriginal male leaders about being labelled universally as abusers should be ignored and the complicity of the indigenous sector in protecting their sensitivities and strange complaints that result should also be ignored.

If they had taken positions of protecting children rather than outrage at John Howard’s nasty and ridiculous blame game in 2007, we would not have the increased rates (also greatly under-reported) that are reported now.

Blatant denialism has contributed to this terrible situation.

Marcia Langton is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, Australian Indigenous Studies, at the University of Melbourne.

NACCHO Aboriginal #SexualHealth #GetTested : #Syphilis epidemic claims life of Cape York baby for first time in 5 years : Commitment and investment needed to address epidemic

THE syphilis epidemic in the Far North which has claimed the life of a baby is tragic for our Aboriginal and Islander communities and is a major concern for both Apunipima and our partner health organisations in the North.

Rates of infectious syphilis in indigenous communities across Australia in 2016 were five times that of non-indigenous people, with rates in the Far North reflecting this.

There was a need for constant surveillance and resources to ensure any increases in STI rates in the Far North were being addressed in a timely way.”

Apunipima Cape York Health Council public health advisor Dr Mark Wenitong said the stillborn baby was a rare, but tragic consequence of high rates of the infection see Cairns Post Media coverage Part 1 below

Read over 37 Aboriginal Sexual Health articles published over the past 6 years

We are extremely concerned about the growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are contracting these infections.

The prevalence of syphilis is highest in rural Indigenous populations and in some parts of Australia, the disease is now endemic.

“Pregnant women are particularly at risk because if they contract syphilis it can result in serious and sometimes fatal complications for their baby. It shouldn’t be this way, we can prevent and treat these infections through routine screening and treatment programs.

We understand that the Commonwealth has developed an Action Plan to deliver short term responses to high rates of syphilis, with a focus on increasing testing, treatment, education, antenatal care and supporting an appropriately trained workforce.

The recent death from congenital syphilis underlies the need to fund and implement this Action Plan without further delay “

Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) President, Dr Catherine Yelland see full press release Part 2 below

Doctors are urging the Federal Government to make a long-term investment in sexual health programs and services, including prevention, testing and treatment initiatives to address the ongoing syphilis outbreak affecting northern parts of Australia.

Part 1 Syphilis epidemic claims life of FNQ baby for first time in 5 years

THE syphilis epidemic in the Far North has claimed the life of a baby for the first time in the region in five years, with the amount of cases doubling in the past two years.

Cairns Post

New figures from the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service show the amount of cases of infectious syphilis in the Cairns health district has continued to rise in the past 12 months.

So far this year, there has been 12 cases of infectious syphilis in the health district, which is already higher than the year-to-date average.

CHHHS public health medical officer Dr Annie Preston-Thomas confirmed a notification of a congenital stillborn baby in the Far North, but was unable to give further details due to confidentiality.

“These cases are rare with only one other case occurring in the Cairns and Hinterland region since 2013,” she said.

“This relates to an ongoing syphilis outbreak among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in North Queensland. Syphilis infection during pregnancy can cause congenital syphilis, with serious outcomes for the baby.”

Dr Wenitong said there was a need for constant surveillance and resources to ensure any increases in STI rates in the Far North were being addressed in a timely way.

“There is a comprehensive response to STIs happening in our Far North region, however more needs to be done at the primary health level, with increased resources and with more effective cross-cultural approaches to ensure better access to screening for this sensitive issue,” he said.

“One of the screening programs is carried out by Apunipima’s maternal health teams, where 95 per cent of antenatal women have the test to screen out infection.”

Part 2 Commitment and investment needed to address syphilis epidemic says RACP

Doctors are urging the Federal Government to make a long-term investment in sexual health programs and services, including prevention, testing and treatment initiatives to address the ongoing syphilis outbreak affecting northern parts of Australia.

It follows confirmation earlier this month of another congenital syphilis death in Far North Queensland, the sixth fatality from congenital syphilis that has occurred in Northern Australia since 2011.

 

As detailed in its pre-budget submission, the RACP is recommending long-term investment in sexual health programs to accompany the Action Plan. It also wants to see a funded implementation plan for the Fifth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood-Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections Strategy.

Dr Yelland said there needs to be a greater investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health services to improve people’s sexual health in the long-term.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be pivotal in the development and implementation of these strategies. They are the ones who understand the health issues impacting their communities and can help ensure the services delivered are culturally safe.”

There were 28 new notifications of syphilis in North Queensland during October 2017, up from 12 notifications in the same period last year.

Sexual health crisis: Syphilis epidemic rages as doctors sound alarm on rising HIV rates

FROM WEBSITE

Since 2011 a syphilis epidemic has swept across northern Australia, spreading across multiple states and hitting Indigenous communities hard.

Figures obtained by NITV News show the rate of infections is rising fast.

Now, stretched health services are warning a rise in HIV cases could be the next epidemic to hit the region.

By Robert Burton-Bradley  Source: NITV News. 20 Oct 2017

Indigenous Australia is in the grip of a serious health crisis as skyrocketing rates of syphilis have seen five babies die and hundreds of new cases appear. Now, rates of HIV are on the rise too. Doctors and health professionals working on the frontline have said more resources are urgently needed to stop the outbreak which is now in its seventh year.

Professor James Ward from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute told NITV News the situation was all the more concerning because it was preventable.

“We had a very good opportunity to eliminate it, we missed it, and now we’re in this situation,” he said. “It is unacceptable in this day and age to have any congenital death related to an STI in a country like Australia, where we’ve got very good testing and very good treatment for these STIs.”

“If this had occurred in non-Aboriginal communities there would have been a national outcry.”

Figures obtained by NITV News reveal that as of August this year, Queensland has had almost 1000 cases of syphilis among its Indigenous population since the outbreak began there in 2011. The Northern Territory has seen a dramatic rise in infections more than doubling from 229 cases last year to 588 cases since 2013. Western Australia has had 134 cases since 2014, mainly in the Kimberley region, and the now the epidemic has spread to South Australia, which has had 26 cases since late last year. In most cases, the victims are under 29-years-old. There have been five cases of babies dying after being born with congenital syphilis and an unknown number of babies born with congenital abnormalities.

Cairns is the epicentre of the epidemic with the highest number of cases. Cairns Sexual Health Service Director, Dr Darren Russell, said he has never seen a syphilis outbreak like this before.

“It is concerning. We don’t know where it will end up, but it’s worse than it ever has been and the rates around the country are increasing, not decreasing,” he told NITV News. “We’ve seen is this incredible resurgence of syphilis and now we are seeing HIV where we have never seen it before. There is real concern.”

“Cairns and surrounds is really the main area of concern. In North Queensland itself, up to August 2017, there have been 941 cases and five deaths of babies from congenital syphilis.”

“There is a lot of work going on to try and prevent further deaths, but it is very difficult when you have so many cases and you tend to get syphilis in young sexually active people.”

“Initially, you can talk about an epidemic where an infection gets into a community and then what happens after a time is the infection can become endemic, more established in that community – that’s probably what is going on now in the Cairns area and the top end of the Northern Territory, and possibly even Townsville too”,” he said.

He warns of rising HIV notifications in and around Cairns, which he says could be linked to the syphilis epidemic. Now, there has been a spike in HIV infections, particularly in the Indigenous population, says Dr Russell.

“The syphilis epidemic started in 2011 and there was always a concern that HIV could piggyback on that because HIV and syphilis tend to go together,” he said. “Around Australia, HIV notifications in Indigenous people used to be about the same as non-Indigenous people, but they are now twice the rate and it looks like they are continuing to increase.”

In Cairns, it is up to 50 per cent of infections, said Russell. “I don’t think we know at this stage if it is too late”

A public health alert sent to Queensland health workers last month warned the rising rates of HIV are tied to the syphilis outbreak and that a majority of the cases are among younger Indigenous people, under 40 years of age.

It came after an emergency HIV roundtable of around 80 clinicians and community leaders to discuss the crisis in Cairns earlier this week.

Professor Ward, a sexual health expert, who attended the conference as a speaker said the number of Indigenous HIV infections is not huge, but warns that could change unless extra resources are brought in.

“It used to be relatively stable. We’d have say 20 (Indigenous) cases a year nationally, we’re almost double that now, perhaps, even more, when you look at the most recent data, and that’s very problematic because once it reaches a tipping point, it will move into an endemic state and I think now is the time to put lots of effort into preventing HIV.”

The other issue, said Dr Russell, is that diseases like syphilis and HIV can be sleeper infections and people could be unaware for lengthy periods of time they have been exposed, and in turn, pass it on to others.

“One of the problems is we don’t know what we don’t know, there will be individuals who haven’t been diagnosed yet, and if they are not aware they have HIV, then onward transmissions will continue.”

“I think we have always been concerned in Australia that there would be an epidemic of HIV in the Indigenous community and we’d almost eliminated infectious syphilis a few years ago – what we’ve seen is this incredible resurgence of syphilis and now we are seeing HIV where we have never seen it before. There is real concern at this stage and we don’t know where the HIV epidemic is going to go, whether it will continue or be brought under control.”

How did this happen?

A decade ago, syphilis in Queensland was on track to being eradicated, but then in 2010, the number of cases diagnosed started drastically increasing. By 2011, it was being called an epidemic. By 2014 it had spread into the Northern Territory, before moving into the Kimberley region of WA and reaching South Australia last year. Many of the cases are in remote Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Australians are six times more likely to catch syphilis than the non-Indigenous population. Staggeringly, this increases to 132 times higher in remote areas. Rates of HIV infection are twice as high for Indigenous people than the rest of the population.

“These things take you by surprise, there is no way of pre-empting some of this kind of outbreaks but a fast response is really necessary.”

Dr Russell warns that HIV is now looming as a follow up threat. He points to Canada’s experience, where Indigenous people account for as much as 11 per cent of new HIV infections, despite making up just 4.3 per cent of the total population.

“We appear to be heading in that direction,” he warned.

Dr Mark Wenitong, Public Health Medical Advisor at the Apunipima Cape York Health Council, said a large part of the blame resides with the drastic cuts to public health spending made by the incoming government of former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman in early 2012, and a failure by health services to recognise the threat early on.

“Very unfortunate that five women have lost their babies but there have been a number of other babies born with congenital syphilis abnormalities which is problematic and why we are desperate to get message out there for that target age group.” said Professor James Ward.

“The thing is there were resources going into North Queensland through the health department, but after the election, that got cut a fair bit, and from the perspective of primary health care, that really did leave a hole in education. Screening and particularly sexual health teams, that has definitely had an impact,” he said.

Dr Wenitong said this compounded the already large challenges health providers face in the Indigenous community in an area like Cape York.

“There are limited resources because everything is a priority in Aboriginal communities because of the prevalence of a lot of different illnesses,” he said.

Dr Russell said previous outbreaks of STI’s like HIV had largely bypassed these communities, meaning that some were caught off guard.

“It’s a whole range of things. You have a population that is quite marginalized and disadvantaged, has poor access to health care, you’ve also got a group in whom traditionally there hasn’t been a lot of HIV, so the health services aren’t really geared up for thinking about HIV and testing for it.”

Dr Wenitong conceded the outbreak had now spread beyond the control of some health providers.

“These things take you by surprise, there is no way of pre-empting some of this kind of outbreaks but a fast response is really necessary.”

“I think one of the things we feel is a bit of a sense of failure in a way, that things like syphilis which is preventable and controllable, that that got away from us across the Top End of Australia.

What is being done

In response to growing calls for action, the Government has committed more resources, says Liberal senator Dean Smith, who is chair of the Chair of the Parliamentary Liaison Group for HIV/AIDS, Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

“The evidence of the alarming disparity in the rates of STIs between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is very credible.

“I am aware that over the last four years, $15 million has been spent on a variety of specific STI and BBV prevention and education activities across northern Australia, including  trialling “point-of-care” testing for certain diseases and surveying the sexual health and lifestyle behaviours of Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities,” he tells NITV News.

He said everyone needs to be worried by the current crisis and urged his own Government to do more.

“As an immediate action, I firmly believe there must be a stronger response from the Federal Government and that it must take a more proactive leadership role in coordinating the activities of State and Territory Governments on the issue.”

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt said the government was aware of the problem and is taking steps to combat the spread of syphilis and HIV.

“In August, I raised the syphilis issue with the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council’s (AHMAC) Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which is currently intensifying the national response to the current outbreak, including short-term actions to reduce infection,” Minister Wyatt told NITV News in a statement.

“A governance group has been established and will report on the proposed action plan to the Health Minister and myself in December 2017. The response will also focus on a long-term and sustainable response to combating other blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections.

“The Commonwealth continues to fund targeted activities and a national network of approximately 140 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) and around 40 other providers to deliver comprehensive, culturally appropriate primary health care services, including sexual health and maternal health services.”

A new awareness campaign called Young Deadly and Syphilis Free has been rolled out over the last few months targeting Indigenous communities and urging regular resting and treatment of infections.

This week, the Queensland Government announced an expansion of the number of places for people to PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) a medication that can dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission in HIV negative people.

Queensland Health Minister, Cameron Dick, acknowledged working with communities would be crucial in combating the further spread of the outbreak.

“If we are to achieve our shared goal of the virtual elimination of HIV in Queensland by 2020, we must reach out to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in every community.”

A spokesman for Queensland Health said the government was committing $15.8 million over three years to support the actions of the North Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sexually Transmissible Infections Action Plan 2016-2021, in addition to millions being spent more broadly on sexual health.

Despite the promises of increased resourcing, the problem, more than seven years after the first outbreak in Queensland, remains for the time being.

Professor Ward said he believed the slow response was in part because the affected population was Indigenous.

“If this had occurred in non-Aboriginal communities there would have been a national outcry.”

Dr Russell from Cairns Sexual Health says it may already be too late to resolve the outbreak anytime soon.

“That’s the million dollar question. I don’t think we know at this stage if it is too late, but clearly, there are worrying signs and it is certainly not controlled at this stage

NACCHO Aboriginal #SexualHealth : ” It’s a national shame and forgotten epidemic ” As Dept. confirms cuts to Aboriginal Sexual Health Programs

 sexual-health

“It’s a national shame and forgotten epidemic. While there had been significant effort to tackle rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in Indigenous communities, STIs had “really been left off the agenda”.

“I think it’s in the too-hard basket. This area of Aboriginal health has been severely under-funded. The time’s right to do it.”

“There’s just a huge disparity between the two populations, Unless we get some additional resources into this area, we’ll never be able to bring this under control.”

James Ward from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

From 3 March 2017 see full article below

‘A national shame’: Spike in Indigenous STI rates prompts call for urgent action

He has presented the data to the government and helped design the action plan now under consideration.

Photo : James Ward (in Centre ) with the Hon Ken Wyatt Minister for Indigenous Health , NACCHO CEO Pat Turner, Mark Saunders and Professor Gracelyn Smallwood HIV Awareness Week.

Dec 1 2016 see NACCHO Article Here

Read a lot more James Ward NACCHO Articles on Sexual Health here  

” The Department gave no explanation as to why or how the funds would be redirected to alternative providers, leaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community members with nowhere to go.

This comes at the same time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STI and BBV rates are increasing at a rapid rate.

Without continued funding there are major risks for the mental and sexual health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ community members, who have unique healthcare needs.”

The Hon Warren Snowdon MP and Senator Malarndirri McCartney

Press Release see in full below  or here labor-sexual-health

It would be all too easy to ignore the very real challenges facing Indigenous young Australians in the context of their sexual health and wellbeing,

As worthy as Closing the Gap initiatives are, sexual health indicators such as STIs and HIV rates are absent. I’m hopeful the government will agree to urgent action to deal with the problem.”

Liberal senator Dean Smith, who chairs a parliamentary liaison group on the issue, believes he is close to securing a $24 million commitment to fund a three-pronged attack on STIs in Indigenous communities.

” High quality health care must be accessible and appropriate for the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We have to acknowledge that those with HIV may experience additional barriers in accessing health care which relate to stigma and shame.

Racism is one of the social and cultural determinants of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Racism is part of a vicious circle that contributes to low levels of access to health services by Indigenous Australians and causes psychological distress.

I consider it a huge step forward to have racism recognised within the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Implementation Plan

Together we will build the capacity of the Indigenous community controlled health sector and make a real impact on the HIV rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP speaking at Parliament House, Canberra, launching the  National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week. Dec 1 2016 see NACCHO Article Here

Update 3 March  : A spokesman for Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt confirmed the government would evaluate the proposal and was committed to addressing disproportionately high rates of STIs and blood-borne viruses in Indigenous communities

‘A national shame’: Spike in Indigenous STI rates prompts call for urgent action

Alarming rates of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections in Indigenous communities – in some cases up to 132 times the national average – have prompted a call from within the government for urgent action and emergency funding.

The latest data, presented to the Turnbull government as part of the push, shows Indigenous people remain markedly more susceptible to STIs, particularly in remote areas, with growing concern the diseases are acting as a gateway to HIV.

A syphilis outbreak in northern Australia caused the number of diagnoses Australia-wide to rise to 2736 in 2015, with 16 per cent of those among Aboriginal people. The rate was six times higher than for non-Indigenous people, and up to 132 times higher in remote areas.

Gonorrhoea diagnoses stabilised at 626 per 100,000 Indigenous people in 2015 – 10 times higher than the general population, and up to 72 times higher in remote areas. Nearly 20 per cent of all cases were among Indigenous people, with Indigenous status unknown in another 36 per cent.

At a Senate estimates hearing on Friday, the Department of Health acknowledged rates of STIs were “ever increasing” and conceded several federally-funded programs had failed over many decades.

Liberal senator Dean Smith, who chairs a parliamentary liaison group on the issue, believes he is close to securing a $24 million commitment to fund a three-pronged attack on STIs in Indigenous communities.

It would target syphilis elimination, HIV prevention and health education. In particular, a $5.85 million Syphilis Epidemic Outreach Team would dramatically ramp up the provision of screening for syphilis in areas that have seen a dramatic spike in diagnoses.

“It would be all too easy to ignore the very real challenges facing Indigenous young Australians in the context of their sexual health and wellbeing,” Senator Smith said.

“As worthy as Closing the Gap initiatives are, sexual health indicators such as STIs and HIV rates are absent. I’m hopeful the government will agree to urgent action to deal with the problem.”

Experts are particularly concerned that burgeoning rates of sexually-transmitted diseases could result in a prolonged rise in HIV cases among Indigenous Australians, which the data shows is already under way.

There was a “clear divergence” in HIV notifications, Professor Ward said, with cases increasing among Indigenous Australians despite being steady or even declining in the non-Indigenous population.

There were 38 new cases of HIV among the Indigenous population in 2015, double the rate of the general population, Kirby Institute data showed.

The problem also extended to the most common STI in Australia, chlamydia. Of the 66,000 new cases in 2015, nine per cent were recorded as Indigenous – but Aboriginal status was unknown in half of all cases.

A spokesman for Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt confirmed the government would evaluate the proposal and was committed to addressing disproportionately high rates of STIs and blood-borne viruses in Indigenous communities

Department confirms cuts to Aboriginal Sexual Health Programs

The Hon Warren Snowdon MP and Senator Malarndirri McCartney

Press Release

Evidence heard at Senate Estimates this afternoon has revealed that critical sexual health prevention programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are being defunded by the Turnbull Government without any evaluation or consultation.

The Department of Health has confirmed the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council and the Queensland AIDS Council for Sexual Health will have their federal funding ceased on the 1 July this year without any consultation, evaluation or justification.

Today the Department gave no explanation as to why or how the funds would be redirected to alternative providers, leaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community members with nowhere to go.

Senator McAllister: Have you done any specific evaluation of the programs that you are defunding?

Department of Health Official: As part of the agreements that we have with these specific organisations, no we haven’t.

Senator McAllister: Did you ask the state based organisations whether if they would be willing to partner with you in an evaluation of the programs?

Department of Health Official: I will have to take that on notice, I’m not aware.

Senator McAllister: So you have defunded them without a specific evaluation of the programs?

Department of Health Official: No, we didn’t ask.

Senator McAllister: Didn’t ask, didn’t do an evaluation, defunded. Ok.

This comes at the same time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STI and BBV rates are increasing at a rapid rate.

Without continued funding there are major risks for the mental and sexual health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ community members, who have unique healthcare needs.