Background and Goals

CERSH demonstrates responsiveness to local concerns, respect for local knowledge and existing networks, an ability to provide meaningful support and build capacity, adaptability, and the expertise to profile/educate regarding advances in policy and practice, prevention, testing and treatment, and research with specific reference to impacts on rural communities.

The principles and approaches that underpin the sexual health promotion, research and evaluation agenda of CERSH are based on human rights entitlements and are focused on creating conditions that promote equity, diversity and fairness. This strength-based approach, advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO), concentrates on the social determinants of sexual health and wellbeing, promoting health rather than treating disease. CERSH priority populations are young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and their communities, culturally diverse communities and men who have sex with men.

CERSH endeavours never to generalise or assume expertise about the rural communities or population groups with which work is undertaken. To facilitate effective health promotion CERSH needs to identify and understand how critical social and structural factors shape and determine people’s experience of sexual health and illness in different rural contexts. The experience and meaning of sexuality and sexual health may be different for residents for each locality or population group, and within each locality or population group, and may present unique challenges. This work is therefore facilitated by strong community development theory and practice, a commitment to authentic partnerships, and an active engagement with the dynamics of difference, diversity and culture.

CERSH’s research and evaluation agenda aims to create evidence which informs an integrated approach to sexual health policy, health promotion, and service and program delivery. CERSH’s approach draws from community-based participatory research principles. This means that CERSH actively and equitably engages those for who the research issue is of interest, or who are affected by the issue, in aspects of the research process. CERSH research and evaluation promotes co-learning with a focus on strengthening resources already present in the communities in which the work is undertaken. The findings and knowledge generated through CERSH is distributed in a variety of formats so as to be accessible and useful to a broad range of audiences.

CERSH Work Plan for 2016 – 2020

Four key areas are prioritised in the current CERSH work plan:

  • Rural workforce
  • Leadership, research, evaluation and knowledge sharing
  • Affordable reproductive health
  • Transition to the new National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP)

CERSH Goals for 2016 – 2020

The goals that CERSH is working towards, in line with other funded agencies in Victoria, are:

  • Reduced incidence and prevalence of Sexually Transmissible Infections/ Blood Borne Viruses (STI/BBV)
  • Increase in early detection and treatment of STI/BBV
  • Increased best-practice sexual and reproductive health services
  • Increased access to affordable contraception and termination of pregnancy services
  • High levels of participation in the renewed National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP)

CERSH within the Department of Rural Health

CERSH is located within the Department of Rural Health (DRH) at the University of Melbourne. Whilst this strategic relationship provides mutual benefits to both parties, the success of CERSH has been significantly enhanced by the value added to CERSH through its location within DRH.

Importantly, CERSH benefits from:

  • the leadership provided by DRH and the University of Melbourne
  • the infrastructure provided by DRH to support the day to day activities of CERSH and its staff
  • exposure to DRHs existing partnerships, collaborations and linkages within regional Victoria particularly in workforce development, research and health care service provision and knowledge transfer (in particular rural knowledge)
  • an opportunity to work collaboratively to ensure the maximization of resources from both the Commonwealth (DRH) and State (CERSH) government funded programs.

CERSH and Sexual Health Promotion

Sexual health promotion is a key component of integrated public health practice using the combined strengths of health promotion; primary health care, and clinical sexual health services offering testing and treatment (secondary prevention or preventive medicine) and efforts to minimise the impact of long-term disease and maintain the health and well-being of those with STIs/BBVs (tertiary prevention). The linkages are particularly important in the rural context where workforce capacity and resources are minimal.

To have an impact on sexual health in rural communities, it is critical to know how rural communities, and specific population groups within these communities, understand sex, sexuality and relationships. Health promotion initiatives supported by CERSH therefore need to be developed sensitively with the community itself to build detailed knowledge of the community, and trust to work collaboratively and respectfully. Health promotion practice in the rural context, therefore, encapsulates partnerships, service integration, holistic and multi-strategic approaches and strengths-based participation.

CERSH works towards the following health promotion goal:

Community activism for respectful relationships and optimal sexual health.

And these health promotion objectives:

  1. Enhance and support sexual health promotion strategies aimed at increasing the capacity of young rural people to experience respectful relationships and live healthy sexual lives
  2. Increase the awareness of STI prevention, clinical management strategies and access to clinical care for rural residents
  3. Increase knowledge and awareness of specific sexual health promotion strategies aimed at achieving optimum sexual health for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities (CALD); Aboriginal young people, their families and communities; and men who have sex with men (MSM) in rural communities.