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Online Discussion: Tracking new emerging diseases and the next pandemic

Alice Springs, Northern Territory: Syphilis

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    Posted: November 16 2018 at 1:11am
Syphilis outbreak: More resources needed

2599 syphilis OKCurrent resources are not adequate to effectively deal with a syphilis outbreak in the Northern Territory, according to the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance (AMSANT).


Spokesman David Cooper says in a media release that the NT Minister claims in the recent past the rates of new cases had been unchanged, but “the status quo is not good enough, as during this period the outbreak has continued to spread”.

The Commonwealth had provided additional resources, including enhanced funding for additional workforce in four NT Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS).

However, further resources are urgently needed for the NT syphilis register, as well as extra capacity for the NT Government clinics in affected areas.

Says Mr Cooper: “Enhanced population health screening needs to be consistent across NT Government and ACCHS clinics in the most active areas of the outbreak to ensure that infection is not spread back into communities.

“Additional resources are also needed where the outbreak is currently active.

“The current combined action of governments and the community controlled sector must be supported by sufficient resources to end this longstanding and damaging outbreak.”

Source and photo of lesions:   http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2018/11/16/syphilis-outbreak-more-resources-needed/
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Syphilis outbreak control attempts a 'total failure' says Australian Medical Association
ABC Radio Darwin
By Robert Baird

Updated about 3 hours ago
The syphilis outbreak has reached three states and the Northern Territory. (AAP)

Attempts to reduce the spread of a disease that can kill newborn children have been labelled a "total failure" by an expert medical group.
Key points:

    A syphilis outbreak has spread from Queensland to three other Australian jurisdictions
    Attempts to deal with the spread have been woeful, the Australian Medical Association says
    A $21.2m "test and treat" model has been rolled out in some outbreak regions

Federal health data shows 896 Indigenous men and women have been infected with syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, since it spread from north Queensland in 2013, now reaching three states and the Northern Territory.

That includes around 30 new cases in the NT per month — a far higher rate than in other jurisdictions.

Australian Medical Association NT president Robert Parker said the national problem had been met with a lack of federal leadership.

    "There's a total failure of the Federal Government to actually control the situation currently," Dr Parker told ABC Radio Darwin.

"The problem is a lot of the sexual health programs have actually been defunded, so all the people you need on the ground are not there any more to educate people on safe-sex practices."

The Federal Government committed $8.8 million in 2017 to tackle the disease in areas such as Central Australia.

The funds were distributed to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) in the outbreak regions and helped fund a national awareness campaign called "Young, Deadly, Syphilis Free".

"The problem is in the Territory, half the people are serviced by government organisations, so they're not eligible for [that] funding," Dr Parker said.

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Video: Video raising awareness about the dangers of syphilis. (ABC News)

Infection can be fatal for newborns

The current outbreak started in 2011 in the Indigenous community of Doomadgee, on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

People infected with syphilis often develop lesions, rashes and sores across the body.

Syphilis can be deadly for newborn children when contracting the infection from their mother, but unlike in Queensland, there have been no reported deaths in congenital cases in the NT.

"Particularly in the centre of Australia, Aboriginal tribal boundaries, cultural boundaries, don't really relate to the state and territory boundaries currently," Dr Parker said.

    "So there's a lot of Aboriginal people travelling through the centre. Which is why this epidemic has spread really quickly.

"There doesn't appear to be any current, effective response to deal with this quite widespread issues of this very serious disease."
$21.2m model rolled out

In a statement, a spokesperson for the federal Health Department described a range of measures being implemented to fight the problem.

The statement said the Commonwealth had set up an "Enhanced Response Unit" to deal with the outbreak.

The department has also committed $21.2 million to roll out of a "test and treat model" through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in the outbreak regions.

It said this model rolled out in Townsville, Cairns and Darwin in August 2018.

From October 2018 it was rolled out in East Arnhem Land, as well as to three services in the Katherine Region (NT) and the Kimberley (WA).

Currently, it is considering further rolling out the model to more Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in the NT, WA and SA to begin early in 2019.

As of November, 73 clinicians in the NT and about 117 nationally had been trained to use the testing kits, and the number of people tested for syphilis is expected "to increase dramatically" in early 2019.

To assist with the outbreak of syphilis in Adelaide, the Federal Government will also fund two fulltime positions for Indigenous health workers there, following a request from the South Australian Government.

However, the federal Health Department said some responsibility also rested with the state and territory governments.

"The agreement of all states and territories to the action plan through the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council aims to ensure consistency of approach across jurisdictions. It is the primary responsibility of each state and territory to respond to matters of sexual health," the statement said.

The NT Government has been contacted for comment.

Source and video:   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-08/syphilis-outbreak-federal-government-failure-australian-medical/10696660
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