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'NZ's 1st sexual health contact tracing trial aims to increase access to care'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Quick contact tracing is one of the most important ways to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections and from this month, a new anonymised sexual contact tracing service is being trialled by the Wellington Sexual Health service using the SXT Health services platform.

SXT provides an easy anonymous way to inform sexual contacts of STI (sexually transmitted infection) risk via text message or email.

"Syphilis and gonorrhoea rates have significantly increased over the last two years," says Bronwen Warren - GM Clinical Services TÅ« Ora Compass Health PHO. "By trialling the technology, we’re aiming to increase opportunities for patients and their sexual contacts to access care, be treated early and, to slow the spread of these infections," she says.

"This is the first sexual health digital contact tracing service for New Zealand," she says. "The service has performed well in the UK and Kiwis are now getting used to contact tracing as a way to stay safe. Through the trial, we want to understand how the SXT platform performs in our region as we know there is national interest from health providers and other advocacy organisations. The SXT service also has the potential to save a significant amount of administrative time for clinical staff, who have previously contacted people at risk of STIs by phone."

"So, while empowering patients and increasing options for at risk people to seek help anonymously, it also means more effort can be directed towards caring for some of our more vulnerable community members," says Warren.

No other identifiable information such as NHI or date of birth is used by this system and it’s separate from medical centre and hospital patient notes. Once the contact receives a message from SXT, they are supported to find their nearest appropriate healthcare provider to get tested and treated.

"Privacy is key for the Wellington Sexual Health service, SXT health service, and people who use the service, and we’ve worked with privacy organisations to ensure the service meets New Zealand requirements," says Warren. "All mobile numbers and email addresses are encrypted by SXT until reminders are sent, and then they are permanently deleted."

New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) Chief Executive Dr Jason Myers says he’s excited to see what outcomes this new tool can achieve.

"Demystifying and destigmatising STIs are important ways in which we can move towards stopping the spread of these infections. If finding out you need to get a test can be as simple as a notification, we can start to break down those barriers of shame and awkwardness that have been placed on STIs. Normalising contact tracing is a big part of the work NZAF does and we’re glad to see the focus is shared by our dedicated sexual health sector colleagues, who are getting this tool into the hands of their patients.

Owning your sexual health and taking responsibility for the wellbeing of your sexual partners is so important. Tools like SXT take some of the stress out of the situation and puts the ability to look out for the wellbeing of those in your sexual networks right there at the tap of a finger," he says.

When comparing gonorrhoea contact tracing rates reported to Public Health England, those clinics using the UK based SXT service reached 3 times more people and enabled more people to access testing.

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