A milestone North Coast study of young people’s condom usage has won a national excellence award for a team of medical students undertaking clinical placements coordinated by the University Centre for Rural Health North Coast (UCRH).

The five University of Western Sydney students who conducted the 2016 study have since graduated and gone on to become doctors. The recipients of this year’s Health Specialist Medical Award sponsored by ANZ Health are Drs Daniel Brieger, Sukhita De Silva, Karina Hall, Benjamin Pfister and Daniel Youlden.

At the time they were undergoing a series of UCRH-coordinated clinical placements in the Northern Rivers. The then-students were encouraged to develop a research project by UCRH researcher Dr Sabrina Pit who helped them liaise with the North Coast Public Health Unit to conduct a face-to-face survey of people aged 18-29 years attending a North Coast music festival.

The work was a collaboration with the North Coast HIV & Related Programs (HARP) and the North Coast Positive Adolescent Sexual Health Consortium (PASH).

An 11-question confidential survey asked 290 music festival attendees, male and female, to assess their confidence and ability to use condoms consistently and correctly, and how often they did so.

The results showed that while most felt confident about their condom usage a significant number had in fact used condoms inconsistently or incorrectly, resulting in high rates of condom failures during intercourse.

Results showed -

  • Only 18 per cent of respondents always used condoms during sex in the past 12 months
  • 77 per cent reported being confident with their condom practices, but 37 per cent had experienced condom breakage in the past year
  • 48 per cent had seen a condom slip off during intercourse
  • 51 per cent when withdrawing the penis after sex
  • 34 per cent of interviewees reported consuming at least ten drinks in the past 24 hours
  • 94 per cent had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol during sex some time in the last year, with 19 per cent reporting being under the influence “most of the time” or “always” when they had sex.

Dr Sabrina Pit said the results indicated significant risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), specifically chlamydia and HIV, and unwanted pregnancies.

“To our knowledge this is the first study to demonstrate that young Australian festival attendees, as an identified risk group, may be experiencing a significantly higher rate of problems when using condoms.

“It is a great credit to the students that they identified a need to get personalised feedback, and then designed a study that has provided much valuable information. Their project has made a positive contribution to public health and their award is richly justified.

“This research has great relevance for the health of a significant number of young Australians, not just locally but nationally as well,” Dr Pit said.