The Victorian AIDS Council has raised concerns the Federal Government’s new $9.8 million national STI prevention program is sending mixed signals with its message on condom use.

The Government launched the program with a national advertising campaign to encourage condom use in young people and combat the dramatic rise of STIs, including HIV.

The campaign, with the tagline -œSTIs are spreading fast -” always use a condom, is based on research which found lack of condom availability was a leading cause of high rates of unprotected sex among young people.

Sexual health promoters in Victoria welcomed the focus on sexual health, however, they say although condoms are vital to the health promotion message, they’re not the whole story.

VAC health promotion manager Colin Batrouney told Southern Star he was concerned the campaign did not place enough emphasis on ongoing monitoring and testing for STIs, including HIV, among sexually active people.

-œI am concerned the campaign could be misinterpreted by people in terms of their risk of STIs if the basic take-home message is just wear a condom, he said. -œWe know a condom is not going to provide complete protection from STIs. If we take syphilis as an example, condoms won’t protect you at all from picking up syphilis.

-œIt could offer you very partial protection, but you could still get it, and, as we know, syphilis figures are going through the roof.

According to the Victorian Department of Human Services, the number of cases of syphilis has risen from one case in 2001 to almost 1000 diagnoses in the last two years.

Batrouney said he believes the campaign approach is too broad, especially when dealing with gay and lesbian health.

-œI can’t imagine the particular approach having a lot of traction with young people or gay people. Unless you target messages… they become very diffused, he said.

Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria director Dr Anne Mitchell welcomed the safer sex push, however, she said the campaign appears to be -œvery heterosexual.

info: The campaign can be found online at australia.gov.au/sti

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