Syphilis Campaign

About the 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.  ANTHYM – Aboriginal Nations Torres Strait Islander HIV Youth Mob assisted in campaign development.

The campaign is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

The campaign’s focus is on encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15 to 34 to test for syphilis and other STIs to assist in bring the outbreak under control. The aim of the campaign is that 30,000 young people in communities affected by the syphilis outbreak test for STIs by June 2018.

The challenges

For over two decades STI (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas and infectious syphilis) diagnosis rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been grossly disproportionate to rates for the non-Indigenous population – particularly in remote and very remote areas of Australia, and particularly for young people aged 15- 29 years in those communities.

STIs can create discomfort, shame, stigma and if untreated can cause poor outcomes in pregnancy and infertility.

The risk of HIV is increased in communities where STIs are endemic, because the presence of other STIs, through increased inflammation in and around the genital area, heightens a person’s risk of contracting HIV.

The syphilis outbreak highlights the urgent need for strong and concerted cross-jurisdictional actions to increase STI and BBV testing rates for young people in regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and ensure early diagnosis and treatment. To do this we need to enhance community knowledge of STIs and BBVs, and address stigma associated with discussing sex, sexuality, and drug and alcohol use.

The Remote STI and BBV Project

SAHMRI has also been funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health to develop and deliver the Remote STI and BBV Project – Young, deadly, STI and BBV free. The Project, funded from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019, is integrally linked and complementary to the Young, deadly, syphilis free campaign.

As for the syphilis campaign, Young, deadly, STI and BBV free project activities seek to significantly increase STI testing and treatment rates among young people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and do so as quickly as possible – the aim being to rapidly bring down new infection rates. Project activities include:

  • Trialing of a peer education for young people
  • Resource development
  • Support for clinicians
  • Monitoring and reporting of STI and BBV testing and treatment rates.

About SAHMRI

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute is a globally-recognised institute that harnesses dynamic collaborations to deliver tangible health outcomes and community impacts. SAHMRI’s Infection and Immunity Aboriginal Health research group, led by Associate Professor James Ward, undertakes a range of research projects that aim to reduce the disproportionate burden of infectious disease carried by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, with a particular focus on STIs and blood borne viruses.

SAHMRI’s Infection and Immunity Aboriginal Health research group is leading the establishment of the Centre for Research Excellence on Aboriginal Sexual Health and Blood-borne Viruses (CRE-ASH) – a five year National Health and Medical Research Council funded study which will develop a sentinel surveillance network to monitor trends in STI and blood borne virus testing and diagnosis data for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.