About Us

For over two decades STI 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 in those communities.

These high rates affect remote communities across northern and central Australia, with an ongoing syphilis outbreak in remote areas of far north Queensland, all of the Northern Territory, the Kimberley region in Western Australia and South Australia’s Far North, Eyre and Western regions.

Rates of hepatitis B and C are also disproportionately high in Aboriginal communities; and there is a risk of HIV outbreak in remote communities where STIs are endemic, because presence of other STIs heightens a person’s risk of contracting HIV.

Common STIs affecting people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities include:

Chlamydia is the most common STI in Australia, predominantly in the age group 15-25 years. Rates among Aboriginal people are between 3 and 5 times those for the non-Indigenous population – across metropolitan, regional and remote areas. Chlamydia rarely has symptoms. It is easily tested for, and treated with a one-off dose of antibiotics. If not detected and treated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and other serious complications in women, including poor outcomes in pregnancy.

Gonorrhoeae and syphilis disproportionately affect young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in remote and isolated communities. Rates of gonorrhoeae are 30 times higher for the Indigenous population compared to the non-Indigenous population; and syphilis rates are five times higher. Both STIs can cause major issues in pregnancy, including still-birth, and babies can be born with both infections. Both conditions are relatively easy tested for and treated with antibiotics.

Trichomonas is very prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In remote communities around 25% of women found to have trichomonas. Untreated trichomonas can cause premature birth and low birth weight.

Time for strong actions

The syphilis outbreak highlights the urgent need for strong and concerted cross-jurisdictional actions to increase STI and BBV testing rates for people in 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.

Many young Aboriginal people in remote communities are aware of STI and BBV risk and are using condoms. But ongoing high prevalence of STIs and closed sexual networks in remote communities mean that the chance of a contracting an STI for young people in these communities is much higher than for their peers in cities.

Young people in remote communities need to be empowered to look after their sexual health without shame.

At the same time, Aboriginal health services, educators, clinicians and community leaders need to upscale efforts to improve testing and treatment rates, and ensure that opportunities to encourage sexually active young people to test for STIs and BBVs are not missed.

The projects

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) has been funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health to develop and deliver two complementary and linked projects which aim to quickly increase STI and BBV testing and treatment rates for young people in remote and very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities: