Surveillance data and epidemiological analyses provide essential information for planning disease interventions. They also provide background for determining public health priorities and developing focused evidence-based policy.

The national surveillance of communicable diseases of public health importance is co-ordinated through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System in collaboration with the Communicable Diseases Network Australia. Currently more than 60 communicable diseases are nationally notifiable. These include a number that are usually or frequently sexually transmitted—in particular chlamydia, gonococcal infection, syphilis (infectious, latent and of unknown duration), HIV, hepatitis B, donovanosis and hepatitis A.50 The collection of observational data through sexual health clinics is possible and can provide a valuable evidence base.

Genital herpes, genital HPV and trichomoniasis (notifiable in the Northern Territory only) infections are not nationally notifiable. Data provided to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System by states and territories include a number of fields, including unique record reference number, state or territory identifier, disease code, sex, age, Indigenous status, date of onset, date of notification to the relevant health authority, and postcode of residence. Information from a number of fields is frequently incomplete, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, which causes problems in analysing trends and designing effective interventions.

It is a priority of this strategy, as well as the Third Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy 2010–2013, to improve the completeness of surveillance data, particularly in important fields such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status. Work has been underway at a national level to respond to this deficiency.

Consideration could be given to collecting surveillance data for STIs from prisons and juvenile detention centres, as well as the extent to which this could contribute to newly developing sentinel surveillance systems for STI such as the Australian Collaboration for Chlamydia Enhanced Sentinel Surveillance program.

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Opportunities for improving data collection, including getting a clearer indication of the number of tests performed to test STIs, could be explored during implementation planning. Methods to enhance surveillance for particular conditions could be instituted. Further information about testing numbers and generalising surveillance data to populations of interest is required. Again, strategies for targeting these areas could be developed as a priority. There could be greater coordination and engagement of the agencies involved in the diagnosis, surveillance and management of STIs and linkages between laboratories and testing and diagnosis sites.

Priority actions in surveillance

  • Improve knowledge of the prevalence and incidence of STIs in priority groups.
  • Promote culturally appropriate STI surveillance and behavioural research in priority populations and emerging groups.
  • Support the extension of enhanced sentinel surveillance programs such as the Australian Collaboration for Chlamydia Enhanced Sentinel Surveillance (for chlamydia surveillance).
  • Investigate data linkage as a mechanism to improve the completeness and accuracy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status within data sets.
  • Through partnerships, investigate the status of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia’s work on Improving Indigenous Identification in Communicable Disease Reporting Systems.

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50 Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, 2008, Communicable Diseases Intelligence.