Ms Alison Coelho1, Ms Dolly Hoang1, Dr Masha Mikola1
1Centre For Culture, Ethnicity And Health, Richmond, Australia
In recent years, there has been an alarming concern regarding sexual health problems including high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), blood-borne viruses (BBVs) and unplanned pregnancies among international students in Australia. International students are at high risk of being exposed to sexual health risks due to a variety of reasons including limited prior knowledge around sexual and reproductive health and sexual negotiation, and increased risk-taking behaviour. Difficulty in accessing sexual health information and navigating through the health systems also leads to adverse sexual health outcomes.
To tackle this issue, the Multicultural Health and Support Service has developed a peer education program aiming to promote the sexual health and wellbeing of international students and empower them with skills and knowledge to seek information where and when they need it.
This paper discusses the benefits and challenges associated with the peer education model in the international student population. The outcomes of the project showed that international students have, for instance, been more comfortable when seeking information on sexual health from their peers rather than from health professionals. Peer educators have also been able to reach out to international student population that is normally out of reach to health professionals. Some challenges of the model have been linked to recruitment and the training format of student peer educators. The paper argues that the peer education model can be applied to international student setting successfully, but only if it is carefully planned, evaluated and co-designed in close collaboration with its users.
Alison Coelho is the Acting Co-Executive Manager of the Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health (CEH), Stream Leader Multicultural Health Improvement and Manger of the Multicultural Health and Support Services (MHSS). MHSS is a state-wide program that aims to prevent HIV, sexually transmissible infections, and viral Hepatitis amongst high prevalence refugee and migrant communities across Victoria. She has a background in Sociology and Community Development. Alison is a sitting member of the Victorian Ministerial Blood Borne Viruses Advisory Committee, a member of the Victorian Hepatitis B Alliance (VHBA) and former Board member of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO). She is the founding member and Chair of the new Australian Multicultural BBV/STI Alliance (AMBA) and the Co-chair of AFAO’s African Reference Group.