Doctors are urging the Federal Government to invest in sexual health programs to fix the ongoing syphilis outbreak in the north.
Katherine has one of the highest rates of syphilis in the country.
There were more than 70 syphilis notifications in Katherine in 2017.
And if you live here, statistically you are more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection than the flu.
The latest NT Centre for Disease Control bulletin said the spike in syphilis indicated “the ongoing outbreak affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population across Northern Australia is not abating”.
“We are extremely concerned about the growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are contracting these infections,” Royal Australasian College of Physicians president Catherine Yelland said.
“The prevalence of syphilis is highest in rural Indigenous populations and in some parts of Australia, the disease is now endemic.
“Pregnant women are particularly at risk because if they contract syphilis it can result in serious and sometimes fatal complications for their baby. It shouldn’t be this way, we can prevent and treat these infections through routine screening and treatment programs,” Dr Yelland said.
The call to action follows the death of another child with congenital syphilis in Far North Queensland this month.
Congenital syphilis occurs when an infected pregnant woman passes the disease to her baby in the womb and the baby is born infected.
Children can die when they did not receive adequate, timely healthcare.
Syphilis can be treated with penicillin, especially if administered early.
“We understand that the Commonwealth has developed an action plan to deliver short term responses to high rates of syphilis, with a focus on increasing testing, treatment, education, antenatal care and supporting an appropriately trained workforce,” Dr Yelland said.
“The recent death from congenital syphilis underlies the need to fund and implement this action plan without further delay.”
As detailed in its pre-budget submission, the RACP is recommending long-term investment in sexual health programs to accompany the action plan.
It also wants to see a funded implementation plan for the Fifth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood-Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections Strategy.
Dr Yelland said there needs to be a greater investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health services to improve people’s sexual health in the long-term.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be pivotal in the development and implementation of these strategies. They are the ones who understand the health issues impacting their communities and can help ensure the services delivered are culturally safe,” Dr Yelland said.