CANBERRA, Australia -- Aborigines suffer far higher rates of sexually transmitted disease than other Australians despite being targeted by safe sex initiatives such as Outback trees being festooned with free condoms, a report showed Tuesday.
Aborigines were diagnosed with gonorrhea at a rate of 804 per 100,000 last year – almost 27 times higher than the rate of 30 per 100,000 in the wider Australian community, the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute reported to a sexual health conference.
The diagnosis rate of infectious syphilis was five times higher among Aborigines than other Australians and chlamydia was more than three times higher.
The disease rates add to the range of grim statistics that mark Aborigines as Australia's most disadvantaged ethnic group. Aborigines make up 2.3 percent of Australia's population and die more than a decade younger than other Australians. Aborigines are more likely to suffer a multitude of illnesses that are often associated with impoverished lifestyles.
James Ward, an Aborigine who heads the Kirby Institute's indigenous health program, blamed several factors for the STD rates remaining stubbornly high among Aborigines for more than 20 years.
He noted the Aboriginal population is far younger than the Australian average and STDs disproportionately infect younger people. The rates were worst among Aborigines aged 16-to-19 years and in remote Outback communities where a quarter of Aborigines live.
He said Aborigines also lacked knowledge about STDs and health workers often focused on more pressing health needs in their disease-ravaged communities.
Ward said coordinating a national health campaign against these diseases was difficult in the Outback, where people often live in remote areas.
Outback Aboriginal settlements have been encouraging young people to use condoms without the embarrassment or expense of buying them for more than a decade by creating so-called condom trees.
Under the program, health workers hang brightly painted canisters decorated with indigenous designs and full of condoms from trees where people can pocket them anonymously.
Ward said he still believed the condom trees were working.
The study found that the rate of HIV infections among Aborigines is not much higher than Australia's national average, which is relatively low by international standards. Aborigines had an HIV diagnosis rate of 4.6 per 100,000 last year, compared to a national rate of 4 per 100,000.