Free sex health test for beachgoers

Sun, surf and sexual health checks are all part of the beach scene this summer as the CaddyShack mobile chlamydia screening program tours the Illawarra.

The program provides free STI screening for beachgoers in a bid to promote youth sexual health and is a joint initiative between Healthy Cities Illawarra, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Sexual Health Service and the HIV and Related Programs Unit.

Participants provide a urine sample for testing with negative results returned via text message.

Those with positive results are contacted by a nurse from the sexual health clinic who discusses treatment options.

Marty Janssen, from Healthy Cities Illawarra, said it was important to encourage young people to get screened for chlamydia because ‘‘most people have it without even knowing it and it spreads as a result’’.

Mr Janssen said the rates of reported chlamydia infections in the Illawarra were slightly higher than the state average with a spike in recent years.

‘‘This could be due to increased testing as well as increased infection,’’ he said.

A report released by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine revealed chlamydia notification rates increased across the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region by 72per cent between 2006 and 2010.

 According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rates of infection notifications tripled between 2001 and 2011. 

Mr Janssen said the program aimed to overcome barriers preventing young people from accessing sexual health care.

‘‘It is hard enough getting young people to a sexual health clinic when there is something wrong, never mind if there are no symptoms, so we go to them instead,’’ he said.

‘‘If you make it fun and easy, and free, young people will invest in their health,’’ he said.

Despite the program taking place in the middle of  public beaches, Mr Janssen said young people were happy to participate. ‘‘We challenge the stigma of sexual health by getting big groups of friends involved. Everyone will do it if they see the cool kids doing it. We use positive peer pressure,’’ he said.

Lachlan Macleod, 19, had no shame taking the test at the Thirroul Beach stop on the CaddyShack tour on Friday.

‘‘I’m not embarrassed. It’s a good idea to get a checkout before you find yourself in deep water,’’ he said.

Hayley, 23, said she took the test to set ‘‘a good example’’.

‘‘I took the test to encourage other people to do it. Safety in numbers,’’ she said. 

Although the program targets 16 to 25-year-olds, free tests are available to everyone.

The CaddyShack Summer Tour will make the following stops:  Shellharbour Beach (January 17); Minnamurra Beach (January 24); Lyrebird Park, Nowra (February 14); Ulladulla Beach (February 28). 

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