Sexually Transmitted Infections and Bloodborne Viruses

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:14): I seek leave to make a brief—

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order, Leader of the Opposition! I cannot hear the Hon. Ms Franks.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Thank you, Mr President. I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing on the topic of STIs and bloodborne viruses.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: As the council is no doubt aware, syphilis is a serious infection that can spread easily. Syphilis is most infectious within the first two years, during the primary and secondary stages, so early testing and treatment is vital to stop its spread. If passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, syphilis can cause the baby to be stillborn or have severe abnormalities affecting its eyes, ears and bones. Contracting syphilis can also increase the risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections, including, of course, HIV.

The minister would be aware that there was an outbreak of infectious syphilis in May 2017 in our state. That outbreak has been linked to the earlier outbreak in northern central Australia that began in 2011 and has since affected more than 1,000 people in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, including deaths from congenital syphilis. Recently, there have been six deaths in Australia, three confirmed and three probable, due to congenital syphilis. In South Australia in recent months, we now have a recorded case of congenital syphilis in Port Augusta. My questions to the minister are:

1. Can he update the council on what impact the actions of the Young, Deadly, Syphilis Free campaign and other work here in South Australia, including that done by SAHMRI, is having to increase the STI and bloodborne virus testing rates to stop new infections and ensure early diagnosis and treatment?

2. How many people in South Australia have now been tested as part of those programs, and what have been the levels of infection?

3. Is the government confident that, given the cuts to funding in this area, we will not see either an increased rate of HIV infection or, indeed, any deaths or further instances of congenital syphilis in our state?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:16): In relation to the first part of the honourable member's question, I will take those on notice and bring back an answer to the honourable member. Can I assure the house that the SA government will always stay alert to developing threats, in terms of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. In terms of the budget, there will be adjustments over time as we see the disease patterns change over the financial year. We will continue to work not only with Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations and the Aboriginal Health Council but also with the commonwealth, which is an active partner in this area.

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