The Young Deadly Free Project

The Project, which ran from July 2016 to June 2019, comprised a set of interrelated activities aiming to substantially increase STI and BBV testing and treatment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people living in remote communities across Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.

Young Deadly Free resources and activities, including this website, were developed by SAHMRI in consultation with the project consortia and with input from participating communities. Project activities are delivered in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and their affiliates.

The Project was independently evaluated by SiREN, the Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Applied Research & Evaluation Network, based at Curtin University in Western Australia. More information about the evaluation can be found here.

Project Component’s

Project activities sought to significantly increase STI testing and treatment rates among young people in remote and very remote Aboriginal communities, and do so as quickly as possible – the aim being to rapidly bring down new infection rates.

Otherwise healthy young people at risk of STIs and BBVs who do not generally access health services need to be made aware of the need to test for STIs and BBVs, and of where to get tested. Young people need to be linked to testing services and feel empowered to ask to be tested.

At the same time, clinicians seeing young people from remote communities need to proactively offer STI and BBV tests as part of routine health checks – and ensure that no opportunities to engage with young people on the need for regular testing are missed.

  • Peer education for young people — a culturally appropriate, peer-led education program on STIs and BBVs was developed, targeting young people aged 15 to 29 years living in remote and very remote Aboriginal communities. The Peer Education Program was trialled in 15 remote communities across Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.
  • Resource development — culturally appropriate web-based and print resources on STIs and BBVs for young people and people of influence in the community — including Elders, parents, youth workers and mentors — were developed. The key messages of these resources focus on STI and BBV testing and treatment, and the need to address the stigma and shame that can be associated with discussing sex and sexuality. There is also a set of factsheets on sex and the law. These resources, all branded Young Deadly Free, are housed on this website under the resources tab.
  • Support for clinicians — resources were developed to assist in the induction, training and professional development of clinicians and health workers who work in remote practice, including videos featuring experienced practitioners sharing insights and tips on engaging with young people on the need to test regularly for STIs and BBVs.
  • Monitoring and reporting of STI and BBV testing and treatment rates — nominated services participating in the Project provided access to routine clinical and non-identifiable laboratory testing data. This data was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the project in increasing STI and BBV testing rates.
  • Social media — Social media was integral to the campaign, with social media platforms used as information hubs for young people to learn about and discuss STIs and testing, chat about issues, participate in the campaign and share campaign infographics and animations. Utilising FacebookInstagram, Tik Tok and Twitter/X, regular posts included news of the campaign and its progress at local levels, using the most popular social media in each zone.

National Coordination

The Project was led by Associate Professor James Ward, Head of Infectious Diseases Research – Aboriginal Health, SAHMRI (now Professor, School of Public Health, University of Queensland).

Project Consortia

The Project was overseen by a consortia consisting of representatives from SAHMRI and the state and regional Aboriginal Health Councils representing Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services that provide services to remote and very remote communities located in Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia:

Participating Communities

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in remote and very remote areas of South Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia were invited to participate in the Project, including in health promotion, youth peer education, monitoring and clinician support activities.

To participate in the Project, health services needed to:

  • serve a community that has a high prevalence of STIs or BBVs and more than 150 Aboriginal young people between 15 and 29 years
  • serve an area of South Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, or Western Australia classified as a ‘remote’ or ‘very remote’ area
  • be willing to utilise electronic medical records to extract STI and BBV testing data, and be willing to provide access to non-identifiable laboratory testing data.

Remote Communities Across Australia – Where Are They?

Discrete Indigenous Communities by Usual Population – ABS, 2006 census data

The Young Deadly Syphilis Free 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.

Now in its third phase, the campaign is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. (currently funded to 30 June 2021).

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.

TV and Radio Ads

Phase 3 of the Young Deadly Syphilis Free campaign was launched in September 2019, with broadcasting of TV and radio ads in syphilis outbreak areas across Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. These ads, which will continue to be broadcast throughout phase 3 of the campaign, seek to raise community awareness of the ongoing outbreak and the importance of regular testing, including in pregnancy. The original ads developed for phases 1 and 2 of the campaign are still being broadcast, along with new ads – including new animations.

Phase 3 of the Young Deadly Syphilis Free campaign was launched in September 2019, with broadcasting of TV and radio ads in syphilis outbreak areas across Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. These ads, which will continue to be broadcast throughout phase 3 of the campaign, seek to raise community awareness of the ongoing outbreak and the importance of regular testing, including in pregnancy. The original ads developed for phases 1 and 2 of the campaign are still being broadcast, along with new ads – including new animations.

A selection of the TV and radio ads has been translated into community languages.
The TV and radio ads can be accessed here.

Social Media

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.

The campaign engages directly with young people in each of the campaign zones — via FacebookInstagram 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.

E-newsletters 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.

Clinical Support

An important component of the campaign is ensuring that clinicians working with young people in remote health services are supported.

Clinicians who are new to working in remote and very remote communities can find the context challenging, and be unsure of cultural sensitivities. We’ve produced videos providing background on the STIs and blood borne viruses affecting remote communities. The videos include information on epidemiology, with experienced clinicians sharing insights into best practice in communicating with young people regarding STI and BBV risk behaviours, sex and sexuality issues, and tips on how to normalise sexual health checks. We’ve also produced a manual for clinicians working in remote communities — STI and BBV control in remote communities: Clinical practice and resource manual.

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 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 Professor James Ward — Director, UQ Poche Centre for Indigenous Health / Professor, School of Public Health, University of Queensland.

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