‘Let’s Treat Syphilis’: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources


Image: Queensland Council for LGBTI Health

The syphilis outbreak has been progressively creeping through our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, resulting in communities being disproportionately affected by this infection.

These high rates of infection occur for multiple reasons. One significant factor is the limited access to healthcare that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are located in remote and rural settings, which can make it difficult for people to access medical care.

In addition to this, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities may also face the challenge of cultural barriers when seeking healthcare.

They may also be less likely to seek medical treatment due to stigma or low literacy regarding STIs.

Syphilis also often has no symptoms, complicating the process of identifying the infection even further.

Phil Sariago, Executive Officer 2Spirits, points out a few issues at play here: “the rates of Syphilis in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are unacceptable,

“We need to do better in how we provide access to healthcare and increase community awareness.

“We hope our consultation process and resulting resources will encourage individuals to take more responsibility for their health by going to the their nearest health service for regular STI and BBV screening and medication to treat these infections.”

Consulting with the community

Queensland Council for LGBTI Health (QC) and 2Spirits partnered with Queensland Positive People (QPP) to re-launch the Let’s Treat Syphilis campaign last year.

This time, the aim was to broaden their approach to the syphilis outbreak.

This approach aimed to involve the voices of those most at risk of infection, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

QC and QPP were able to utilise feedback given by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members across three consultations.

These consultations included both community and health workers in Cairns, Stradbroke Island and Thursday Island.

These consultations also lead to the development of two new posters, lead by the 2Spirits team.

One of these posters targets Aboriginal people, the other Torres Strait Islander people.

As per feedback from these consultations, shame was a key message.

Stigma prevents those infected from seeking medical treatment or from even seeking a sexual health check-up.

This became the core messaging of the campaign for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

With the help ofNow, all posters carry the message: ‘No shame’.

Condoman, front and centre

Another recommendation taken on board was positioning the iconic superhero Condoman to promote community awareness.

Condoman was introduced in response to the demonization of HIV/AIDS as a result of the infamous ‘Grim Reaper’ commercial of the late 80s.

Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood, with a number of other Aboriginal Sexual Health Workers in Townsville, formed a culturally appropriate sexual health resource.

Condoman was born, along with his tagline, “Don’t be shame, be game.”

Now, with the re-launch of the Let’s Treat Syphilis campaign, Condoman is back once again, doing what he does best.

QC, 2Spirits and QPP worked closely with the 2Spirits team and engaged Cairns City Graphics to develop three videos featuring Condoman.

The goal is to promote the education and de-stigmatisation of sexual health-check-ups and the practise of safe sexual habits.

To find the closest testing site to you or contact your local GP or health service for more information: https://letstreatsyphilis.info/testing-directory/ 

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