Syphilis 'should never happen in a developed nation'

Extract from report by: Meredith Griffiths, ABC National Reporting Team          Source: ABC News online

Associate Professor James Ward from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute says that cases of syphilis increased by about 200 per cent among young heterosexual Indigenous people living in remote areas of Queensland, the NT, the north-west of WA and SA over the past five years.

He said that it all started from one outbreak in 2011.

"There was a lack of a rapid response to that outbreak," he said. "The response was delayed even further because at the time public health services in remote and regional Queensland were being dismantled by the government in Queensland at the time, the Campbell Newman government."

He said health departments were trying to keep track of the disease, that a major awareness campaign was underway, and clinicians were being urged to test people — but there was a long way to go.

"The really big problem with infectious syphilis is that since this outbreak began in 2011 there've been five babies lost to congenital syphilis and that should never happen in a developed nation like Australia," Dr Ward said.


New STI and BBV data for 2016 released today: alarming trends for Aboriginal people

The Kirby Institute (UNSW) 2017 surveillance reports for STIs and blood borne viruses, released today, again show alarming concerns for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The new data for STIs among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people show no abatement in alarming rates of STIs – with data extremely high for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis in regional and remote areas.

Rates of hepatitis C continue to climb for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – especially among younger people aged less than 25 years.

Leading researchers* wrote in an article for The Conversation  today that the HIV data is cause for particular concern. Over the last 5 years there has been a 33% increase in the rate of new HIV diagnoses in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and at the same time a 22% decrease among Australian born non-Indigenous people.  This has created another gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. The rate of diagnosis is now more than double that of non-Indigenous Australians.

A/Prof James Ward, Head of infectious Diseases Research – Aboriginal Health, at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) says:

‘This should not be happening in 2017 when we have all the answers at hand to prevent HIV  – including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and strategies such as Treatment as Prevention, which aims to prevent HIV at a population level by reducing transmissions.

‘It is likely that the different exposure categories are contributing to the divergence in rates, because health promotion efforts are concentrated toward the main population group affected by HIV in Australia, gay men and other men who have sex with men. This health promotion misses women.

'This data highlights the need for culturally relevant HIV prevention programs for Aboriginal people. We need enhanced community education, targeted testing and treatment initiatives – including access to PrEP, and greater access to sterile needle and syringes, and drug dependence treatment for people who inject drugs', says A/Prof Ward.

The new data serve to emphasise the importance of Commonwealth funded SAHMRI projects that aim to increase STI and blood-borne virus testing and treatment rates for people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, including:

Access the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STI and BBV data  here.

Access the Kirby Institute media release here.

* Conversation article authors

  1. Research Fellow, UNSW

  2. Professor of Medicine, Clinical Researcher and Epidemiologist, UNSW

  3. Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases Research Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

  4. Research Officer, UNSW

  5. Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Program Head of Surveillance Evaluation and Research, UNSW