STIs no longer the elephant in the room

Participants in the course role play during training.

Kimberley health professionals have participated in sexual health training in a bid to increase testing rates among Aboriginal people in a region faced with a syphilis epidemic.

Nine north-west health practitioners are the latest graduates of an intensive two-day course run by the Aboriginal Health Council of WA at the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services in Broome.

Among the participants were remote area nurses from Bidyadanga, Aboriginal health practitioners from Broome and Fitzroy Crossing and a prison re-entry case manager from the Men’s Outreach Service in Broome.

The sexual health training program, ‘The Birds and the BBVs’, offers health professionals the skills to routinely offer and undertake opportunistic testing for STIs, blood borne viruses (BBVs) and HIV.

AHCWA chairperson Michelle Nelson Cox said rates of STIs and blood borne viruses were higher among Aboriginal people than the general population.

“Over the past two to three years, the Kimberley region in particular has been faced with a syphilis epidemic,” Ms Nelson Cox said.

“Health workers have expressed grave concerns about the surge in syphilis cases and the need to increase testing so that positive cases can be treated early.”

Latest Health Department statistics show that 18,099 people were diagnosed with STIs and BBVs in WA in the year to March 31, 2017 – an increase from 15,943 on the previous year.

Ms Nelson Cox said the training program, which was developed by AHCWA, Sexual Health Quarters and Hepatitis WA, was designed to be fun and interactive.

“The course is designed to help Aboriginal health workers and other people working with Aboriginal people to feel confident to broach the subject of STI and blood borne virus testing with their clients,” she said.

“We’re seeking to normalise testing by making it a routine part of a visit to an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service, even when people present at the clinic for an unrelated issue.

“We are hopeful that this training program will contribute to increasing the rate of STI and BBV testing among Aboriginal people, and in turn, help to decrease the number of these infections and viruses.”

Since the courses started in 2016, 59 Aboriginal health workers have completed the sexual health training. This year, courses are planned for Northam, Carnarvon and Perth.

AHCWA is the peak body for Aboriginal health in WA, with 22 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services currently members.

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