Enhance Walkabout: a pilot project to improve sexual health engagement among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The challenge: 

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities continue to experience a disproportionate burden of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBVs). These infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are readily treatable with antibiotics, however there are often delays in diagnosis and treatment. This is particularly so for young people in regional and remote settings, who experience very high levels of these infections. Innovative interventions are required to improve STI and BBV testing coverage and ultimately reduce prevalence.

The project: 

This project builds on an existing service, Walkabout Barber/Beauty, to raise awareness and knowledge of sexual health in the context of haircuts and beauty services in Warburton WA in partnership with Ngaanyatjarra Health Service. Members of the community will be offered the opportunity to access either a free haircut or beauty service provided by Walkabout Barber enterprise, as well as attend a yarning circle workshop around sexual health, suicide prevention and access to Ngaanyatjarra Health services. This engagement will provide a pathway of referral to the health service to undertake STI testing (including point-of-care or POC), as appropriate. The support of Walkabout and trained Aboriginal Peer Connectors, will ensure engagement with the community and individuals is done so in a culturally safe way.

The method: 

Using a novel mixed methods framework, we will examine several outcomes of interest, including feasibility of implementation, utilisation and acceptability by young people, number of young people returning to health services after a period of disengagement, number of STI tests and number of clients attending in the target age group.

The qualitative component of the study has two aims:

  1. To understand perceptions (including acceptability) of POC STI testing for young people; and
  2. To understand the personal experiences of engaging with the Walkabout Barber program (including the Enhanced STI model) and personal and community impacts of Walkabout.

The research is being undertaken in partnership with Ngaanyatjarra Health Service and the communities they support.

The results: 

Through co-design, collaboration and implementation with the Warburton community and health service we will increase local Aboriginal workforce capacity in Ngaanyatjarra Health Service (Peer Connectors), improve STI knowledge (community engagement with Walkabout), increase STI testing and treatment (community level coverage to reduce prevalence) and build partnerships and optimise referral pathways for sexual and mental health for the community.
The co-designed comprehensive formal evaluation of the Enhanced Walkabout will provide evidence for policy and program design of a novel approach to sexual health for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Combining a focus on young people’s experiences of Walkabout and sexual and mental health, as well as community perspectives, and observations from Walkabout staff, will provide evidence of a more holistic approach to two areas of national priority for Aboriginal health.

The impact: 

Health services will benefit from gaining further knowledge on strategies to improve access to the health service for young people. Young Aboriginal people will benefit from access to a free haircut/beauty treatment, engagement with peer connectors about topics of relevance to them, development of skills and confidence in their health seeking behaviours and have greater access to STI testing services including point of care testing, and in turn detection and cure of more STIs.

Project contact: 
Research Officer
Project supporters: 
  • Australian Government Department of Health
  • Western Australian Aboriginal Health Ethics Committee (WAAHEC)
Project collaborators: 
  • Ngaanyatjarra Health Service
  • Walkabout Barber/Beauty enterprise