A joint pilot project between Baw Baw Shire and Gippsland Women’s Health has been developed to combat the increasing rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Teenage Pregnancies in the region.
Funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, the project proposes the installation of six Condom Vending Machines in public toilets across Baw Baw Shire for a 12 month trial period.
Studies reveal that Gippsland has one of the highest rates of STD’s and teenage pregnancy in Victoria.
“We have high levels of STI’s, particularly Chlamydia, across the state but in rural areas it’s especially high”, Health Promotion Coordinator of Gippsland Women’s Health Selena Gillham said.
“And there are also high rates of teenage fertility, which is births by teenage girls, but the stats don’t include whether they’re planned or unplanned.”
In 2014, the amount of births of women aged between 15 to 19 was higher than the Victorian average at 15.4 births per 1000 women.
According to the Department of Human Health between November 2011 and 2012, Gippsland had 352.7 Chlamydia cases per 100,000 people compared to Victoria where there were 333 cases of the sexually transmitted disease.
“It is expected that this pilot would help improve the state of sexual and reproductive health in Baw Baw, especially in young people; reducing the spread of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) and the number of unplanned and teenage pregnancies”, Cr Gauci said.
Mayor of Baw Baw Shire Councillor Joe Gauci said council is currently seeking feedback from the community on the proposed project and is particularly interested in the views of the Gen Y demographic.
“This could be a positive way for Council and its health partners to address identified sexual and reproductive health concerns in Baw Baw. But, we want to know if the community thinks this is a project Council should take on and if it’s something the community is on board with.”
The Mayor explained that it is anticipated the pilot would see the machines installed in the accessible toilet cubicles of public toilets and provide packets of two condoms at a cost of $2.00 per packet.
This is not the first attempt to promote Sexual Health in Gippsland.
Headspace Central West Gippsland led an innovative health promotion project between 2012 to 2013 to inform young people about Chlamydia but it was to no avail.
Following the efforts of HCWG, another project was undertaken last year that aimed to discover why communication about sexual health in Gippsland was limited.
Fifteen young people were interviewed and the results determined that fear was a significant factor in purchasing condoms for young people because of a stigma associated with purchasing condoms where ‘everyone knows everyone.’
Limited operating hours of retail outlets and lower access to health services also proved to be barriers for young people wanting to buy condoms.
“Young people in Baw Baw Shire have expressed that this project would allow them to access condoms in a more affordable and less embarrassing way.”
Bass Coast Shire Council successfully implemented a similar project last year and residents have embraced the project, with vending machine usage continuing to grow.