Gay men’s sexual health will be a priority in a new national strategy aimed at boosting knowledge of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and encouraging regular testing.

The first national STIs strategy, released on Monday, provides $12.5 million over four years to improve STI awareness, naming gay men as a high priority group.

Following recent increases in gonorrhoea and syphilis among gay men, the program will raise awareness of the relationship between HIV and other STIs, and encourage STI testing.

Routine testing for STIs has declined, possibly due to the focus on HIV/AIDS during the past 20 years.

Surveys in capital cities suggest that, while many gay men seek regular sexual health testing, check-ups are not always comprehensive, with a tendency to prioritise HIV testing over checks for other STIs.

Dr Andrew Grulich, associate professor at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said: In the 1970s and in the early 1980s, STIs were very much a part of life for gay men, and regular testing -¦ was just a part of life.

With the advent of HIV, that was somewhat forgotten and that is something that needs to be addressed.

The new national strategy also has a strong focus on chlamydia, which has risen sharply in the general population in recent times and is common among homosexual men.

It outlines a chlamydia testing program targeting young women, following about 36,000 notifications of the disease last year.

Darren Russell, president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, welcomed the national strategy and its focus on homosexually active men.

It’s actually quite a reasonable document, Russell told Sydney Star Observer. We can certainly say it’s a good start.

But he said criticism that the strategy lacked implementation detail was valid.

There really are no timelines, there are often no lines of responsibility for who is going to do what, and there’s no funding attached to most aspects of the strategy, Russell said.

But we were keen to have a lofty document that can at least lay the foundations.

The first national STIs strategy will run until 2008, concurrent with the recently launched fifth national HIV/AIDS strategy, which also names gay men as a priority group.

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