STIs and blood-borne viruses in the Indigenous population

Despite years of public health work, the burden of STIs and viral hepatitis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remains much higher than for Australia’s non-Indigenous populations.

Common STIs in Aboriginal communities include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas and syphilis. These STIs are easily detected and easily treated. However, if untreated, they can lead to reproductive health consequences such as infertility and ectopic pregnancy, as well as pre-term labour, miscarriage and stillborn babies.

Continued endemic and high rates of hepatitis B and C represent a significant component of the overall burden of chronic ill-health borne by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with significant issues for future health care given the long-term effects of chronic liver disease, including liver cancer.

Rising HIV rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been observed in data analyses over the last few years. The rate of HIV diagnosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is now more than double the Australian-born non-Indigenous rate.

Addressing gaps in the data

The main source of information on STIs and BBVs among Australian populations has to date come from routine clinical notification data through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. This form of surveillance involves laboratories or clinicians reporting diagnoses of selected STIs and BBVs to health departments.

Relying on notifications alone to guide policy and health care interventions has limitations, and there are major gaps in the completeness of notification of cases by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status.

CRE-ASH seeks to address these gaps by providing improved data on epidemics, patterns of infection, access to health centres, and the extent of STI/BBV testing occurring within health centres. It will also provide much needed data on issues affecting population groups’ access to health care, STI/BBV testing, and timely treatment, and on risk behaviours in key population groups.

CRE-ASH brings together a multi-disciplinary team of Australia’s leading experts in STI and BBV research, experienced clinicians and community-based practitioners who have an interest in innovative and practice relevant research, translation and capacity development within Aboriginal health. CRE-ASH will investigate the ability of strategies, both novel and best practice, to control STIs and blood-borne viruses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The CRE-ASH network consists of five Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander clinical hubs which have been established to coordinate research and its translation, capacity development, and initiatives with local Aboriginal primary health care services. The network also collects behavioural characteristics on young Aboriginal people aged 15 to 29 years attending participating health centres.