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Time to eliminate infectious syphilis in remote Indigenous communities

MJA release: Eliminating infectious syphilis from remote Indigenous communities is now a viable option, according to research in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.“Achieving this would remove another disparity in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” said James Ward, a senior lecturer at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, and co-authors.

15 May 2011

Eliminating infectious syphilis from remote Indigenous communities is now a viable option, according to research in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

“Achieving this would remove another disparity in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” said James Ward, a senior lecturer at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, and co-authors.

Legally, all new cases of syphilis must be notified, so the authors were able to use national data from 2005–2009 to examine trends in syphilis infection by Indigenous status, jurisdiction, sex, age group and area of residence. They found that the notification rate for infectious syphilis among Indigenous people decreased significantly over this period.

“Now might be the right time to move toward eliminating infectious syphilis from remote Indigenous communities,” said Mr Ward.

 “The relatively small numbers of notifications in Indigenous remote communities, their geographical concentration and recent sustained decreases make this aim a viable option.”

Over the 5-year period, the notification rate for infectious syphilis dropped substantially in the Indigenous population overall and in the following subgroups: females, 15–19 year olds, and people living in outer regional and remote areas of the Northern Territory and Queensland.

In contrast, in the non-Indigenous population, the notification rate significantly increased nationally; as well as in males, in people aged 20 years and over, and in residents of metropolitan and regional areas of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.


The statements or opinions that are expressed in the MJA  reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA unless that is so stated.

CONTACT:     Mr James Ward                                   02-9385 0894 / 0434 149 714

                    Dr Darren Russell                                0438 367 496

Director of Cairns Sexual Health Centre, Queensland

Associate Professor James Cook University, Queensland


Published: 15 May 2011