Northern Australia's decade-long syphilis outbreak prompts calls for a national response

Source: ABC News,  Cameron Gooley, 15 January 2021

Key points:

  • An interstate syphilis outbreak has been spreading for 10 years
  • The AMA is calling for a national Centre for Disease Control to respond to the outbreak
  • Aboriginal medical groups are calling for more funding for on-the-ground prevention and treatment

Australia's peak medical body is calling for a coordinated national response to bring an end to a syphilis outbreak that has spread through the country for 10 years.

The sexually transmitted infection is easily treatable but has been moving through parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia since January 2011.

It has primarily affected young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote and rural areas, particularly Northern Australia.

More than 3,600 people have been diagnosed since the outbreak began, according to federal Department of Health data.

"It was fairly clear that there was a very ineffective response to this very significant disease epidemic across four states," the Australian Medical Association's NT president, Dr Robert Parker, said.

"And there was a total lack of coordination from the various states and territories in dealing with it,"

Read the full article

Reducing STI rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

Source: Health Times,  Charlotte Mitchell, 7 December 2020

More focus on increasing the rates of sexual health testing, and less focus on behaviour change, is the key to addressing high numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Dr Salenna Elliott, Senior Research Fellow and Public Health Medical Registrar at SAHMRI, told HealthTimes “what [our research] is showing us is that the behaviours in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are actually not very different from other groups of young people.”

“A real concern is in remote areas. Once you have a high prevalence of STIs there, it means that whenever a person then has unprotected sex, they are much more likely to be exposed to an STI because those background levels are so much higher.”

Dr Elliot said that in some communities, it is also more difficult to access sexual health care services than in urban settings.

“The more effort we can put into improving STI testing rates, we can actually bring down that background prevalence in those communities where young people are at a much higher risk of exposure when they have unprotected sex.”

Dr Elliott coordinated the second GOANNA survey, an Australia-wide sexual health survey of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Led by SAHMRI researchers in partnership with Aboriginal community organizations, the survey included more than 1,300 participants aged 16-29 from urban, regional and remote parts of mainland Australia...

Read the full article.

Sexual health status of Australia's young Indigenous revealed

Source: Medical Xpress,  South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), 17 November 2020

The results are in for the latest Australia-wide sexual health survey of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The GOANNA Survey was led by SAHMRI researchers in partnership with Aboriginal community organisations and included more than 1,300 participants aged 16-29 from urban, regional and remote parts of mainland Australia.

The survey focused on relationships, sexual behaviors, use of health services and knowledge about sexually transmissible infections (STIs), HIV and hepatitis C.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research leader, Professor James Ward of the University of Queensland (formerly of SAHMRI) led the GOANNA survey for the second time. Prof Ward said rates of STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis as well as HIV and hepatitis C, remain unacceptably high in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly in remote Australia.

"These survey findings provide a snapshot on a range of factors that might contribute to risk for these infections" Prof Ward said.

"We need to make sure that up to date information is available to guide sexual health clinical guidelines, policies and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities."

Since the first survey (2011-13), the proportion of people who reported using a condom the last time they had sex has dropped from 52% to 40%. There's also been a significant rise in the number of people identifying as LGBTQI, more than doubling from 8% to 18%. Increasing gender and sexual diversity and declines in condom use have also been observed in other surveys of Australian young people in recent years.

STI testing remained stable, with two thirds of participants tested in their lifetime in both surveys. But only half of sexually active teenagers aged 16-19 had ever had an STI test and were considerably less likely to be offered one at a health check-up than young adults. Smoking rates dropped from 40% to 28%. About half of people reported binge drinking and marijuana was the most commonly used drug.

Overwhelmingly, Aboriginal medical services were where people chose to go for health checks, testing for STIs, HIV and hepatitis C, advice on sex and STIs and help for alcohol and drug use, highlighting the need for sexual health care based in Aboriginal medical services.

Read the full article.

Young Deadly Free eNewsletter June 2020

What's new

We wish farewell to Amanda Sibosado.

Amanda has been part of the YDF team since 2017, coordinating resource development. Amanda has an absolute commitment to the sexual health of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and her skills, creativity, and humour shine through in our YDF videos and posters. We’ll all miss her heaps and wish her all the best for the future.



What's news

Young Deadly Free findings from evaluation

The Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Applied Research and Evaluation Network (SiREN), in collaboration with SAHMRI, produced two posters summarising selected Young Deadly Free evaluation findings for the youth peer education program and the uptake of the project's health promotion resources.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the communities for supporting the Young Deadly Free project. The project is making an important contribution to improving the sexual health of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities - something that would not have been possible without the whole hearted support of organisations and people in the community.


The following results are for the period 1 July 2017 – 30 June 2019 and are limited to resource access via social media and the Young Deadly Free website only.
Followers engaged with published posts on the Facebook page a total of 53,160 times (the total number of times posts were shared, reacted to, commented on, or clicked on).

  • 723 posts were published on the Facebook page (mainly consisted of images, videos, or links to relevant websites) and reached 363,742 feeds.
  • Young Deadly Free Facebook had 1,016 followers.
  • The Young Deadly Free Facebook page was liked by 945 people.
  • Half of the Facebook likes (49%) were by young people aged under 34 years.
  • Followers were predominantly females (72%) aged between 25-34 years (34%) and 35-44 years (24%).


The Young Deadly Free project produced a comprehensive library of resources, targeting different populations in remote communities: young people; people of influence (e.g., Elders), and remote practice clinicians.

  • The dedicated Young Deadly Free website and Facebook page were the most effective platforms for engagement with the resources.
  • Factsheets, posters, and infographics were the most frequently downloaded website resources while videos received the greatest reach, likes, and shares on Facebook.
  • With the Facebook followers typically female, aged 25-44 years, there is much value in exploring how to better engage males and a younger demographic with sexual health content.
  • Nonetheless, the findings highlight the efficacy of using a dedicated website and social media – especially Facebook – in health promotion targeting remote communities, particularly in instances when the content is associated with cultural sensitivities and the population group is geographically dispersed and varied.
  • The acceptability of the Young Deadly Free resources is attributed to the active engagement of the target groups in the resource development process, which ensured the relevance of the resources to the diverse population.

Read the full evaluation: Reach and uptake of health promotion resources via website and social media


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people report considerably higher notification rates of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBVs) when compared with the non-Indigenous population (1). Young people aged 15-29 years and those residing in remote and very remote areas account for a large proportion of all STI and BBV notifications in this population. Peer education has been shown to be beneficial for youth sexual health promotion, however its efficacy for young people living in remote and very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is unknown.

The program aimed to increase awareness of STIs and BBVs, promote prevention of STIs and BBVs, increase the uptake of STI and BBV testing, and help foster healthy relationships among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged between 16-29 years.

The peer education program forms part of the larger Young Deadly Free project, which was developed by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in partnership with Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA), Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (AHCSA), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT), and Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC).

The Young Deadly Free youth peer education program was piloted in 15 remote and very remote communities across four jurisdictions in Australia during 2017-2019

Young people showed knowledge gains from pre to post survey, with increases in the proportion of correct responses reported across each of the 13 questions.

There were marginal differences between males and females in the proportion of correct responses to each knowledge question in the pre and post surveys.

Differences were evident among the age groups, with those aged 23 years and older having the highest proportion of correct responses in the pre and post surveys.

The Young Deadly Free peer education program has made a promising impact on raising sexual health awareness among young people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with knowledge gains evident from pre to post survey, as well as in increases in behavioural intentions and agreement levels from pre to post survey.

The survey findings also highlight where to focus health promotion efforts, namely: encouraging testing among 16-18 year olds; enhancing knowledge about BBVs; and the need to normalise STI and BBV testing in the community to reduce concerns about shame and privacy.

The program has the potential to have an enduring impact on participating communities and contribute to a positive shift in the sexual health narrative in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Read the full evaluation: Peer Education Program Findings

Project queries, Professor James Ward:
Evaluation queries, Dr Roanna Lobo:

The Young Deadly Free project and evaluation was funded by the Commonwealth Government Department of Health. Sincere thanks to the project coordinator (A. Sibosado) and to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations, and people who were involved in the development of the health promotion resources.



Increases in infectious syphilis notifications are attributed to an on-going outbreak occurring in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people residing in northern and central Australia, continued increases among men who have sex with men (MSM) in urban areas of Victoria (Vic) and New South Wales (NSW), and increases in non-Indigenous women residing in urban areas of Vic, NSW, Queensland (Qld) and Western Australia (WA).

Read the full report: June 2020

This surveillance report has been authorised by Health Departments in outbreak affected jurisdictions and the Office of Health Protection.

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. Utilising Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Divas Chat, regular posts include news of the campaign and its progress at local levels, using the most popular social media in each zone.


Get regular updates by subscribing to our eNewsletter

Young Deadly Free eNewsletter January 2020

What's new

With the Syphilis outbreak continuing across Australia, you may be looking for resources to help tackle the outbreak in your local area.

The Young Deadly Free website has all our videos relating to the syphilis outbreak in one handy area - click here to check them out.

A major focus of the outbreak response is preventing further cases of congenital syphilis. With this in mind, and with feedback from clinical staff in outbreak regions, we developed Antenatal Care: Taking Care of yourself, your baby and each other, a video focusing on the importance of antenatal care which gently sneaks in messaging about the importance of STI testing during pregnancy.

Young Deadly Free Resources.
Need help navigating our awesome resources or choosing what to order for your local community? Check out our updated catalogue

Social media

Young Deadly Free engage with community via our social media pages.

Facebook - Young Deadly Free have 1,178 page likes and 1,268 followers @youngdeadlyfree
Instagram – Young Deadly Free have 314 followers, 404 posts and 33 IGTV videos @youngdeadlyandfree
Twitter - Young Deadly Free joined twitter in October 2019, we have 92 followers and our audience is steadily growing @young_deadly

For young people

“This Is Us”, is a dynamic video mini-series that explores the broad social issues around sexual health. Developed and filmed with Joel Brown and Natasha Wanganeen, and featuring an all Aboriginal cast, “This Is Us” provides a great platform for deep health discussions with young people.

The full series is now available on YouTube and our website.
Check it out here

This project was developed in partnership with Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, and funded by SA Health.

For people of influence

Supporting our LGBTIQ Youth is an important part of our sexual health messaging. A new video targeting youth and the broader community features advice from our mob, for our mob.

Check it out here

For clinicians

New to First Nations’ sexual health? Have new staff have joined your team? A whole range of our clinician video resources could support you with staff orientation. Below are just some examples of what you will find in our clinician resources.

Conferences / meetings

ASHMs 2020 Conference dates have been released - get planning!

If you weren’t aware already, there is a now a FREE online Syphilis Outbreak Training Website via ASHM, see their media release for all the details.

Got a conference or training event you want to promote?
Let us know and we can share on our social media platforms and via our newsletters.

Looking for educational resources, social media resources or clinic resources?
Young Deadly Free have what you need.

Our resources include animations, videos, fact-sheets, posters and more.
All Young Deadly Free resources are free and no sign up is required.

If you would like Young Deadly Free resources on USB check out our new catalogue and send an email order to

Get regular updates by subscribing to our eNewsletter

PBAC have endorsed authorised Nurse Practitioner prescribing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV medicines

SourceASHM News, 4 February 2020

Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) welcomes the recent recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to endorse authorised Nurse Practitioners (NP) to prescribe hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV medicines under the Highly Specialised Drugs (HSD) program. The PBAC recommendation states:

Prescriber eligibility requirements currently in place for the relevant medicines under the National Health (Highly specialised drugs program) Special Arrangement 2010 will be extended to NPs, including the accreditation and/or state or territory approval requirements.

What does this change mean?

NPs experienced in the care and management of people living with HIV and hepatitis B in the community and hepatitis C in corrective services settings will be eligible to prescribe s100 medicines within their scope of practice and in accordance with their individual employment agreements.


View the full news story


Sexual health services need to be strengthened for PrEP users

SourceMirage News, 3 January 2020

However, a global study co-led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Monash University in Australia, has shown that people who are seeking PrEP to prevent HIV are also at high risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Supported by the World Health Organization, the study, published in JAMA Open Network, suggests PrEP services could be an ideal place to test for, prevent and treat both HIV and other STIs.

The review highlights the limited focus and investment in STI management within HIV programmes. It found that a quarter (24%) of people initiating PrEP were diagnosed with either chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis before they started taking PrEP. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those continuing to use PrEP were diagnosed with either chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis within a year of starting PrEP.

The research team found that the same factors that place people at substantial risk for HIV, such as low condom use, barriers to accessing or using condoms and having more than one sexual partner, also increase their risk for acquiring other STIs.

View the full news story


Young Deadly Free eNewsletter December 2019

YDF News in the sector

Syphilis is still on the move

Syphilis is still on the move with the Pilbara and Goldfields in WA and Central QLD now being declared as outbreak regions. We must continue to raise awareness of Syphilis with over 3140 cases sine 2011. To see the latest surveillance report click here



A/Prof James Ward - UQ in 2020

Young Deadly Free project leader, Associate Professor James Ward, will be leaving the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute at the end of December 2019 and relocating to the University of Queensland in January 2020. James will take up the role of Professor in the School of Public Health and Director of the UQ Poche Centre. We are very sorry to see James leave SAHMRI but heartily congratulate him on his new position. Young Deadly Free will continue through UQ, with some of James’ team remaining at SAHMRI until mid-2020.

For young people

Some people say sexual health is taboo but here at Young Deadly Free we are smashing through the barriers and encouraging our youth to step up and yarn about these important issues; with over 63% of infectious syphilis notifications being in the 15-29 year age group this message is important. Get the low down on sexual health from First Nations youth with our Youth Yarn series, now available on our website on YouTube. video messages from our mob, for our mob

For people of influence

The importance of engaging with elders, parents and guardians cannot be understated in First Nations sexual health. Young Deadly Free takes a whole of community approach and we are calling on everyone to get involved by helping spread the word. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done so with that in mind, we have created a series of short videos to encourage adults in the community to yarn with youth. These can be watched as stand-alone resources but would certainly pack more of a punch if used as part of community education or training- check them out here:

For clinicians

Where do we begin?! There are now a total of 23 videos aimed at clinicians on our website and YouTube channel. Get online and check them out to see the vast array of new resources available to support orientation, in-services or other training programs.
Two of our faves at the moment are Community experiences & opinions about STI testing – which provides valuable insight from our patients, and The Importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff in Sexual Health Work which may be useful for staff new to the Aboriginal health sector and really promotes valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

YDF 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, chat about issues, participate in the campaign and share campaign news, information and resources.


Young Deadly Free has joined Twitter and we already have over 80 followers and have made quite an impression.
In the last 28 days

In the last 28 days
Tweets Tweet Impressions Profile Visits Mentions Followers
8 7689 37 17 80


Currently has over 300 followers
Instagram impressions this year

Currently has 1,248 followers

In the last 28 days
Post Engagement Page Views Videos Page Likes Post Reach Page Followers
3650 148 3889 56 8150 60

Your team can help us get important messaging out to community by promoting our social media accounts in the work you do. Please encourage clients to look us up and follow us, and share our content where ever you can.

YDF conferences / events

Our team has been busy promoting YDF and advocating for First Nations’ sexual health across many conferences over the past 3 months.

Australasian Sexual Health Conference 16th – 18th September

YDF was strongly represented at the Australasian Sexual Health Conference 16 – 18 September 2019. As well as presenting on YDF, James Ward gave a powerful keynote presentation about First Nation’s Sexual Health.

We are a collective, we are connected. To the other Aboriginal people present in the room, I want you to all own this presentation, this is for all of us. When one of us wins, we all win; when one of us loses, we all loose” - Associate Professor, James Ward

Team member Amanda Sibosado launched the Noongar Boodja Statement. 

No one should be left behind and when they are, as we have been, it is each and everyone’s responsibility to step up and be accountable to create a just world for us all.” – Amanda Sibosado

Please sign up if you haven’t already

NACCHO Youth Conference Nov 3rd & NACCHO Members’ Conference, November 4th & 5th 

NACCHO’s theme this year “Because of them we must: improving health outcomes for people aged 0-29 years” meant that sexual health had a strong presence at both conference. The youth conference had 2 sexual health workshops, one run by YDF and one run by AHCWA, and the main conference had a strong sexual health stream with YDF having a stall to promote and disseminate our whole range of resources.



Communicable Diseases Control Conference, 19th – 21st November

is the national platform for hosting information, education and health promotion resources. Our resources have been developed by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), in consultation with project participants and their communities.

To ensure relevance of resources provided on this website to local communities, community reference groups have been convened:

  • Community action groups including Aboriginal young people, clinicians, community stakeholders, trained youth peer educators and Aboriginal community members;
  • People of influence who have strong connections with Aboriginal young people in the community, including parents, Elders, carers, teachers, school support workers, youth workers, sport and recreation officers, youth sport coaches, sexual health workers, and educators;
  • Regional clinician working groups, including doctors, nurses and health workers in each region.

The development and trialling of the project’s Peer Education Program and other resources has also been guided by input from local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service project partners.

Other news

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week (ATSIHAW) 

Each year in the first week of December, to coincide with World AIDS Day, we host Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week – “ATSIHAW”.

The inaugural ATSIHAW was held in November 2014 to get a conversation going in our community about HIV prevention and the importance of regular testing for HIV. Each year ATSIHAW events that aim to promote awareness of HIV are run in local community based organisations. Engagement is continuing to grow with the number of events reaching over 60 during the week of ATSIHAW, most hosted by Aboriginal community controlled health services. The theme of ATSIHAW is U AND ME CAN STOP HIV.

HIV in Australia - where are we are at in 2019?

  • 835 HIV diagnoses in 2018, compared to 2,412 at peak of epidemic in 1987
  • 23% decline in HIV rates in Australia over past 5 years


  • No decline in HIV rates for heterosexual or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the last 5 years
  • HIV rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2018 was more than twice as high as the rate for Australian-born non-Indigenous people
  • Ongoing higher proportion of HIV cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a result of sharing drug injecting equipment compared to non-Indigenous people
  • Ongoing higher proportion of HIV cases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heterosexual people as a result having sex without a condom compared to non-Indigenous heterosexual people

Click on the link to see our new animation on HIV:
For more information on HIV and ATISHAW, see SAHMRI’S booklet HIV and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Communities in 2019 or go to our website:

The Young Deadly Free project team would like to
wish you all a safe and happy Xmas

Get regular updates by subscribing to our eNewsletter

Young Deadly Free's Amanda Sibosado at NACCHO Youth Conference

Source:  NACCHO Aboriginal Health Australia, News Alerts,  5 December 2019

Amanda Sibosado from SAHMRI talks with NACCHO about her experience at the NACCHO Members’ Conference 2019 and tells us a little bit about the Young Deadly Free Project and her role as coordinator.

Amanda ran a workshop with our young professionals at the NACCHO Youth Conference held on the first day of our Members’ conference. The groups came up with some new ideas and input on how health services can assist young people in the approach to STI testing with shame gremlins and how services can work with young people to over come these.

Watch the video

World AIDS Day 1 December 2019 – more support for Australians living with HIV

Source:  The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Media Release,  27 November 2019

World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year. It raises awareness across the world and in the community about HIV and AIDS.

World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year. It raises awareness across the world and in the community about HIV and AIDS.

It is a day for people to show their support for people living with HIV and to remember and honour those who we have lost.

In the 2019–20 Budget, the Morrison Government invested $45.4 million to implement Australia’s five National Blood-Borne Viruses (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI) Strategies.

These strategies will make a deep and profound difference in reducing the health impacts and stigma of BBV and STI, including HIV.

Today, I am pleased to announce that our Government will provide additional, ongoing support for people with HIV and other BBV and STI’s by extending funding to six national peak organisations, providing almost $3 million for 2020-21.

Read the full media release