Northern Territory Queensland

Rapid response tests underway, aiming to halt syphilis spread

Rapid point-of-care testing is underway across three high-risk regions of Northern Australia, as part of the Australian Government’s $8.8 million surge response to the syphilis outbreak.

“These tests are a critical weapon in the fight to curb and control the spread of syphilis,” said Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt AM.

“Previously, it could take up to a fortnight for results of traditional blood tests to be returned, leading in some cases to problems locating patients who had moved on after giving blood samples.

“These instant tests will allow people to be diagnosed on-the-spot for syphilis and given immediate treatment if needed, hopefully providing a vital circuit-breaker against the spread of the disease.”

After months of extensive preparations, followed by recent intensive staff training, 3,000 test kits have been sent to the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service, 3,000 to the Wuchopperen Health Service in Cairns and 4,000 to the Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin.

“The three sites we are initially targeting have been chosen in consultation with the Queensland and Northern Territory governments and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, based on the high number of syphilis cases in these areas,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Quality assurance programs have also been provided to support the health services to increase syphilis testing and treatment rates, including a strong focus on expectant mothers and women considering pregnancy.

“The Department of Health has finalised negotiations with suppliers for the provision of 62,000 test kits, so all services involved will have further supplies available.”

Minister Wyatt said curbing the syphilis outbreak and ensuring the safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was a top priority for the Government.

The surge response funding includes provision for:

  1. Any extra workforce required to implement the ‘test and treat’ strategy
  2. Additional training in syphilis testing and sexual health care
  3. Development of targeted, culturally appropriate communication and education materials

“The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer is leading this nationally coordinated response, in conjunction with relevant states and territories, which have the primary role of delivering sexual health services and dealing with infectious disease outbreaks,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Discussions are now underway for a second phase of the rollout over the next few months. Sites under consideration are in Katherine, Arnhem Land and the Kimberley. Potential locations in South Australia, as well as additional services in the Northern Territory and Queensland are also being investigated for further phases.”

The Government has committed $8.8 million over three years to support the work of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to combat the syphilis outbreak.

Source: Australian Government