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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1861

Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister for Health aware of an article in the Bulletin magazine of 28 April claiming that the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia affects one in 20 of the sexually active women in Australia? Is it true that this disease is responsible for many cases of pelvic inflammatory disease and for consequent infertility in women? If it is, can the Mininster say what Federal Government programs are being undertaken to address this widespread but little known threat to women's health? Given the estimated cost of $30m annually to treat known cases of chlamydia and the huge cost to the health system of dealing with infertility, such as through in vitro fertilisation programs, will the Minister for Health put into practice his much espoused commitment to preventive health care by directing resources into reducing the incidence of a problem which touches the lives of so many Australians?

Senator TATE —The Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, is aware of the article in the Bulletin of 28 April concerning chlamydia. In regard to that part of Senator Haines's question which suggested that this particular sexually transmitted disease might affect one in 20 of the sexually active women in Australia, limited surveys have been undertaken which indicate an infection rate of between 3 and 5 per cent for Australian women in that category. Of course, at the highest level this would come to about one in 20 of the sexually active women in Australia.

The significance of the chlamydia organism has been realised only in the last 10 years or so. It is the most common sexually transmitted micro-organism but infection is not apparent or causes few symptoms. Infection in women can lead, as Senator Haines suggested in her question, to pelvic inflammatory disease-PID-and a single episode of chlamydia PID results in a 20 per cent risk of tubal scarring and infertility. Insofar as Senator Haines linked her question to the question of women's health, when one is talking of infertility one is talking perhaps of the wider tragedy of infertility within marriage or at least a household; so, of course, the health problem of the woman becomes a problem of infertility within that arrangement.

In regard to that part of the question which suggested that resources should be put into prevention rather than cure, the Minister agrees with that as a general proposition--

Senator Haines —I did not say that you should not continue to put money into curing the problem.

Senator TATE —Of course not; I am talking about the proportions of funds which are spent in that regard. The Minister has indicated that the Department of Health, in conjunction with the National Health and Medical Research Council, is preparing an information letter to doctors on STDs with particular reference to chlamydia. Under the 1986-87 national health promotion program, the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has received a grant for an attitudinal survey amongst young people on pelvic inflammatory diseases and to develop resource materials for doctors. The Health Care Committee of the NHMRC has established a working party to develop a protocol for prevention, investigation and management of PID, with the National Venereology Council being represented on that working party.

In this brief answer, I think I have indicated that the Minister does try to give concrete and practical expression to the general intention that it is more appropriate to take steps to ensure that the incidence of a disease is reduced in the community rather than simply to treat the disease once it is contracted. Insofar as it lies within the power of government to influence behaviour in this area, that is being undertaken, as the answer indicates. Clearly it is in the interests of the couple involved in problems which may result in infertility and the taxpayer in general that this course be followed.