The Syphilis Campaign

Young, deadly, syphilis free is a multi-strategy STI awareness-raising campaign, developed in response to the ongoing syphilis outbreak affecting regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in:

  • northern and western Queensland, including Torres Strait Islands
  • the Northern Territory
  • the Kimberley region of Western Australia
  • the Far North and Western regions of South Australia.

The campaign has been developed by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), in consultation with the Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Group of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia.

The campaign is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Campaign aims

The campaign’s focus is on encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to test for syphilis and other STIs to assist in bringing the outbreak under control. The campaign is targeted to young people, aged 15 to 34, who live in regional and remote areas of Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.

The aim of the campaign is that 30,000 young people in communities affected by the syphilis outbreak test for STIs by June 2018.

Campaign stories

The Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign content has been built around two stories. The first story focuses on getting tested for syphilis. The second focuses on the potential risks of syphilis during pregnancy and again, promotes syphilis testing.

These two stories have been used to create two TV ads, as well as radio snippets made by local radio stations. The snippets are based on the TV ad scripts and follow the themes from the TV ads.

Social media is integral to the campaign, with social media platforms used as information hubs for young people to learn about and discuss STIs and testing, in the context of the campaign.

Social Media Ambassadors have been recruited to engage directly with young people in each of the campaign zones via Facebook, Instagram and instant messaging sites such as Diva Chat. Posts include news of the campaign and its progress at local levels, using the most popular websites and social media in each zone.

We are working with Diva Chat to promote the Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign. Diva Chat is one of the most popular instant messaging chat services for young people living in remote Aboriginal communities and data has shown that this is a common place for young people in remote communities to meet each other.

The Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign Ambassadors also provide regular updates to key influencers in each of their regions on campaign milestones (such as launch events, TV ads, Q&A chat), so that they can support the delivery of key campaign messages.

In engaging with young people, the Ambassadors utilise resources developed for the campaign, such as animations, as well as factsheets developed for young people as part of the concurrent and complementary Young, deadly, STI and BBV free project.

Working in remote communities can be challenging for clinicians – especially when faced with the shame and stigma that can be associated with discussing sex, sexuality, and drug and alcohol use.

An important component of the campaign is ensuring that clinicians working with young people in remote health services are supported. Multi-disciplinary ‘Clinician champions’ are available as part of supportive peer networks. The aim is to assist doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health workers in improving clinical and organisational practice, and building peer support networks for sharing clinical guidelines and resources.

Project partnerships and collaborations

The Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Group was formed in 2015, in response to the ongoing outbreak of syphilis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in areas of northern Australia. The Group has been integral in guiding development of the syphilis campaign, providing advice on:

  • epidemiology of the outbreak – notifications, target age, gender, location of notifications
  • synergising the campaign with existing activities to address the outbreak
  • maximising engagement of primary health care services
  • drawing on health services’ capability and capacity
  • medical, clinical and other technical aspects of syphilis testing, treatment and management
  • draft campaign components
  • framing campaign objectives and vision.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations have been involved in all aspects of the campaign development and rollout, including focus testing of the campaign name, messaging and content to ensure messaging and wording is appropriate for different communities. Focus testing was conducted in partnership with ANTHYM – Aboriginal Nations Torres Strait Islander HIV Youth Mob. 100 people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Kimberley, Northern Territory and Queensland participated in the focus testing.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are integral to rollout of the campaign, maximising community engagement by working with community partners in remote communities, such as youth organisations and Aboriginal community councils.

Aboriginal health services are being encouraged to promote STI testing at every opportunity – including adult health check days, adolescent health days and as part of antenatal testing. SAHMRI is working with participating Aboriginal health services as well as other primary health services to provide outreach activities to profile the Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign in efforts to encourage young people to test for syphilis and other STIs, and to upscale the use of syphilis point of care tests (on-site rapid tests).

Campaign coordination

The Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign project is led by Associate Professor James Ward, Head of Infectious Diseases Research – Aboriginal Health, SAHMRI.

The Syphilis Campaign Coordinator, and Ambassador trainer, is Amanda Sibosado, SAHMRI. Amanda oversees the project across jurisdictions, providing national coordination of campaign development and rollout.