Delivering a Healthy WA
Disease WAtch

Evaluation of the Backpackers Project

On 1 May 2012, WA Health launched a safe sex project aimed specifically at backpackers. The message was "Could I be getting more than I came for? (PDF 285KB)" linking with the ongoing WA Health Chlamydia campaign "Could I have it?"

The Backpackers Sexual Health Project encouraged young travellers to:

  • practise safe sex
  • get tested for STIs if they had had unprotected sex.

The project is underpinned by research that shows nearly three-quarters of backpackers had sex during their stay in Australia, with many reporting inconsistent condom use and unprotected sex with multiple partners.1 These behaviours, as well as heavy alcohol consumption and illicit drug use, are associated with a higher risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) among backpackers. 1

The Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Program (SHBBVP) developed an additional webpage to the WA Health chlamydia campaign, Could I Have It. The webpage contained information for backpackers regarding risk and where they could access testing. It also included specific information about health and travel insurance. The Online Chlamydia Self-Risk Assessment (OLC) was also updated to include a question about travel status, to capture the number of travellers using the service.

Guided by a reference group of youth-travel industry representatives, promotional posters and condom wallets were distributed to 18 backpacker hostels across WA, and 4 Perth-based GP clinics frequented by travellers. Condom wallets were also available in 500 rental vehicles.

The SHBBVP also provided condom-vending machines to high-volume backpacker hostels in Margaret River and Perth. The vending machines, fitted in the male and female restrooms, provided 24-hour access to condoms.

The Backpackers webpage received regular visits during the promotional period (29 May to 30 September 2012), averaging 150 visits per month. The majority of visitors were referred by Google searches for terms such as “backpacker STI” and “can backpackers get tested in Australia”.

During the promotional period, travellers were responsible for 25% of OLC forms downloaded and 7% of positive OLC tests. Among people tested at the B2 Clinic (not referred by the OLC), 27% of total positive chlamydia notifications were in travellers. The majority of these were from England (25%) and Ireland (25%). Additionally, one positive syphilis notification for a traveller (England) was recorded, out of 5 total notifications at the B2 Clinic.

The outcomes of this small campaign reinforce published evidence that backpackers are a high-risk group who should be encouraged to practise safe sex and get tested. General practitioners are encouraged to offer STI testing to all travellers and backpackers aged 16-25 years of age.

For more information visit the Could I have it (external site) website.

Reference

  1. Hughes, K, Downing, J, Bellis, M A, Dillon, P, & Copeland, J (2009). The sexual behaviour of British backpackers in Australia. Sexually Transmitted Infections 85: 477–482.

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