Vending machines to improve sexual health

Latrobe City Council will partner with Gippsland Women’s Health to install condom vending machines in council-owned public toilets across the Latrobe Valley in the coming months.

The initiative is part of a Gippsland-wide sexual and reproductive health strategy funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gippsland Women’s Health health promotion project worker Anna Roberts said the initiative was not about promoting sex, but about protecting health.

“It’s about protecting [people] from common STI’s, unplanned pregnancies and it is about empowering the community to access basic birth control without shame or embarrassment,” Ms Roberts said.

She said unplanned pregnancies and STIs could decrease health outcomes for young people.

“Young women have reduced engagement with education that leads to poorer opportunities for employment, which could lead to poverty,” Ms Roberts said.

“The main STI we got reports of often is chlamydia and if that is left untreated, it can lead to infertility in women and testicular problems in men.”

According to GWH, the 2014 chlamydia rate in the Latrobe Valley was 23.21 per 10,000 for women and 13.95 for men, compared to the state average of 16.2 per 10,000.

The 2015 Latrobe Valley teenage fertility rate was 21.5 per 1000 compared to the state average of 14.3 per 10,000.

“The main aim of the project is to provide access to affordable contraceptives within more remote and regional towns, where perhaps it may be embarrassing, for young people especially, to go to a local corner store because they will know somebody behind the counter and don’t want everybody to be knowing their business,” Ms Roberts said.

According to a Latrobe City Council report, three toilet blocks have been identified that fit the location and 24-hour operation hours of the project, including Traralgon Hotham Street complex, Morwell Commercial Road bus station and Moe railway/bus complex.

GWH will supply the machines and 1000 units of condoms for each machine and council will install the machines and take on the long-term management including maintenance, stock control and data collection.

Revunue from sales will be used to fund the continuation of the project, ensuring it is cost-neutral.

Some other Gippsland shires already have the project in place.

Bass Coast Shire have seven condom vending machines installed in public toilets, Wellington Shire have five condom vending machines and East Gippsland Shire have two condom vending machines.