David Aanundsen

NTAHC Alice Springs 2014 onwards

    STIs are still remaining high and there’s a syphilis outbreak happening across the NT

    I am David Aanundsen from Alice Springs NTAHC. I started around April/May of 2014, and I work in Aboriginal Sexual Health. I used to work in a similar role at ACON in Sydney so for me it’s the second AIDS Council doing similar roles, but they do vary because the Northern Territory’s different to New South Wales and as well the time periods have changed.

    I see some clients from time to time but the client loads are not very high for Aboriginal HIV within Alice Springs and some clients I see are more hepatitis related than HIV. Recently we did have a newly-diagnosed Aboriginal person with HIV.

    The Aboriginal Sexual Health role includes education, health promotion and client work, but being in a smaller office as in Alice, you work on all the programs. One of the things I do through the project is Chair the Central Australia Sexual Health Network, so we bring all the sexual health service together to know what we all do an improve referral between services, which is quite handy.

    The difference between other places and Northern Territory is that for a lot of Aboriginal people – and particularly where I work in Alice Springs, and in Darwin – English is their second language and some can’t read or write or don’t speak English. Sometimes you’ve got that little bit of a difficult barrier. We try to overcome these circumstances by aligning ourselves with other workers from the community, so I work in partnership with Congress Health service. I’ve got those Congress workers that can help me out where I need or just other Aboriginal workers that I know. And because I’ve been in the NT for nearly eight years now, I’ve got enough contacts to know who can support me when it comes to language.

    Darren Braun who works in the program in Darwin has been doing some work in Katherine and a bit further south. I have some education activitites, events come up, clients, running committees, meetings. Sometimes there’s deadlines with a lot of things that sometimes can prevent you going out to remote communities. I’m planning a trip in April to go out again. Places we’re trying to target are those communities higher STIs.

    And then the other thing I do too is the Silver Rainbow LGBTI Aged Care Inclusive training, so I’m involved with that. Alice Springs are the main areas that we are currently targeting because I guess that’s where the aged care services are based. Some services could come in for training, so we could notify some of the outer regions and then if they wanted to come in for the training they could .

    Congress services some outer regions, so part of it when we do the sexual health network is that some of those workers come in. So if we don’t make it out ourselves, it’s also about linking in with other services and people who do go out as well. And yes, they might be able to provide them some resources but also a lot of Aboriginal people do come from the remote communities into Alice Springs, and so some people from remote are seen in Alice Springs.

    Some of the education has changed a bit over the last couple of months, but previously I was doing education in the prison and drug and alcohol rehab. And the Aboriginal Men’s Centre in Congress. A lot of men who are living homeless come into Congress and just shave and shower and are fed some breakfast, and so I’ll go and meet those guys. So even though I’m in Alice I’m seeing a lot of remote people. And when I was going to the prison, the majority of the guys were from remote so you’re capturing them in Alice as well.

    Some of the education materials I’ve had to adapt and change. I can’t do standard PowerPoint educations with them because sometimes, if some can’t read or write, or speak English and if it doesn’t have any pictures it actually won’t mean anything, and even for me speaking in English. So I’ve changed my education materials to being more visual. I’ll take a whole lot of things out and put them on the ground, and then we all sit around in a group and go through one by one, you know, what is it, how can you be safe with the assistance of people who speak language. It’s a bit of fun too. Some of the guys have had the education a little bit and then the dental dams, when you get newcomers aksing “what’s this?”, the others start laughing because they did it last time. So I like doing that and I’m finding that seems to be more engaging. I’m discussing what it is and how can you be safe. I just throw a question at them, and then they can grab the item and look at it and it’s all very visual and touch and feel, unlike a PowerPoint and them only looking.

    Well, some of the Elders didn’t get the education themselves, but at the same time some of the Elders do see the importance because they’re having to deal with the issues of high STIs in their communities. We’ve had some recent cases of infant deaths related to syphilis, and syphilis is out of control at the moment in Aboriginal populations of Central Australia. Congress recently wanted me to come in and talk to some of their Elders. These were some of the homeless guys of the community and they were quite keen to know more about STIs. Congress are not doing that education, although they’re doing it in some of the schools but they’ve had to change and adapt what they’re doing. But for Elders, I guess they’re concerned about all those sorts of things and not having information or any education on it as well.

    A new thing now is the uptake of syringes by young Aboriginal people, so that’s something else that’s a bit more new, as well as with the crystal meth sort of thing coming in. There’s now more uptake in that area. It was the Goanna Report that was done recently and that’s the evidence that’s been gathered so far.

    Aboriginal people are not really getting sexual health education in schools, especially remote as much. So what would be good if some of our programs could be expanded a bit so there were bigger teams to go out – so you had a remote team and a central team, and males and females. These projects could do quite a lot but the funding restricts actually what you can do as well. With more workers, we can go out and do a lot more education in remote communities. So like myself, three staff in Alice Springs covering all the whole office and programs and running everything, sometimes it can restrict what you do.

    I am careful cultural-wise because I’m a man and sometiimes may end up educating both boys and girls together. When I’m in those situations, then I just go round the edges and give them some basic details and encourage them to get tested if they haven’t been tested. I’ll say it’s a good chance if you haven’t been tested, go and get a test. It has been good with some of the education, too, because it’s been an opportunity to take them to Clinic 34 and actually have a test rather than just get education alone.

    Funding wise, we’re not too sure what’s going on at the moment, and that’s Australia-wide with all the Aboriginal sexual health areas. But the odd thing with the Northern Territory is that it’s got some of the highest rates of STIs in Australia. More needs to be put into it because having less funding restricts really what we can do, and I think putting more funding in then we could address a lot more and do more remote work, but you do need the resources and vehicles and all sorts of things to get out remote. But, yeah, STIs certainly are not going down and there’s a current syphilis outbreak going on, and we have had a new case of HIV in Alice Springs, and injecting is, I think, on the increase in Aboriginal community as well. Particularly with things increasing, I think it’s an ongoing issue and particularly now.