While the definition of safe sex varies for each STI, the promotion of condoms and water-based lubricants will remain as the primary tool for the prevention of STI transmission. Vaccination against specific infections is one of the most efficient methods of infectious disease control as it reduces or eliminates the risk of transmission. The national HPV immunisation program, listed on the National Immunisation Program Schedule and funded under the Immunise Australia Program, provides a course of three vaccines to 12 to 13–year–old girls in the first year of secondary school (Department of Health and Ageing 2009). A catch-up program for young women ended in June 2009. Emerging data regarding the efficacy of this vaccine in young men and in the prevention of the cancers associated with HPV could be reviewed to consider extending coverage to this cohort. The data regarding the population-level benefits and cost effectiveness of the impact on genital warts in all men and anal cancer in gay men will also be reviewed.
Consideration could be given to reviewing data relevant to extending the catch-up and other preventive efforts for priority populations that have documented high associated morbidities, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.39 Any review would need to be consistent with the role of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in making recommendations regarding vaccination and eligibility for subsidised pharmaceuticals.
Hepatitis B vaccination is an important element of STI prevention. The National Immunisation Program Schedule recommends universal neonatal immunisation. Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids, including by sexual intercourse. This strategy supports the recommendation of the National Hepatitis B Strategy 2010–2013 to promote national consistency in groups and communities eligible for funded vaccination with priority to communities at greatest risk of hepatitis B infection.
Priority actions in health promotion and prevention
- Foster a partnership approach with the Australian Government and state and territory government education departments to ensure a national education teaching and assessment framework supporting the implementation of a comprehensive approach to age-appropriate sexuality and sex education.
- Develop and implement targeted prevention and health promotion programs for high priority groups, building on past and current work.
- Support the professional development of a health promotion workforce in this area.
- Continue to build an evidence base, especially for priority populations.
- Improve access to condoms for high priority groups through building on existing interventions and developing and testing new methods.
- Promote the uptake of, and access to, HPV and Hepatitis B vaccine.
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39 Stark A & Hope A, ‘Aboriginal women’s stories of sexually transmissible infection, transmission and condom use in remote central Australia’, Sexual Health 2007, vol. 4, pp. 237–242.