October 2018 - June 2019
The project aimed to build the capacity of international students to improve their health and well-being by increasing understanding of, and access to, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services. The project worked in partnership with education providers to undertake consultations with international students aged 16 years and over, to gain a greater understanding of the issues that impact on access to SRH information and services. This included, identifying attitudes, knowledge, perceptions and usage, barriers and enablers.
The project sought to increase knowledge and skills to enable international students to be better informed and involved in decisions directly related to their SRH health and well-being, and respond to identified needs and gaps through production of resources that best meet the needs of international students. Consultation was also undertaken with education providers, education agents and Overseas Students Health Cover (OSHC) providers to obtain perceptions of enablers and barriers to SRH information and service access.
The highlight has been working in partnership with international students to gain a greater understanding of their SRH needs. The participation of students through completion of 208 surveys, focus groups with 52 students, 10 students in the face to face co-design workshop and 52 students through email to co-design the resource has exceeded expectations and led to successful project outcomes. This includes the production of the wallet-sized card and display poster that will enable students to have ready access to online, current and evidence based SRH information. The collaboration and support of our project partners has been instrumental in our engagement with international students.
The project was implemented in response to the number of international students being referred to the Cross Cultural Workers in Maternity and Child & Family Health Services of South Eastern Sydney Local Health District. The International Students Project Working Group was established in January 2018 to consult with education providers to identify key issues and to determine how to support the needs of international students.
The working group identified a number of issues including: students postponing studies due to pregnancy; financial cost of maternity care due to Medicare ineligibility; service accessibility; delayed access to timely care; health information and resources available; stress, isolation and anxiety and its impact on studies; capacity to continue studies with a baby; impact on relationships and social networks, and; confidentiality. It was unclear what knowledge students have and how best to address these gaps, and what is the most effective way to disseminate clear and accessible information.
The high degree of student engagement in surveys and focus groups has enabled us to identify attitudes, knowledge, perceptions and usage of SRH information and services. These findings have led to the co-design and development of a resource that provides current, evidence based SRH information online for international students. This resource will enable international students to be better informed and involved in decisions directly related to their health and well-being. The consultations have also enabled us to respond to barriers and enablers that impact on access to SRH services. The dissemination of findings has led to collaboration with project partners and key stakeholders, with consideration to future projects that are responsive to the needs of international students.
International students survey and focus group findings have supported the development of resources i.e. wallet sized card and display poster. The resource provides current, evidence based websites of SRH information and services for international students, which will also be beneficial for domestic students. A topic outline for education providers was also produced including SRH information that students want to be provided either face to face or online over the course of their study year. Service providers survey findings have also supported resource production and future projects.
Challenges and recommendations
As much as our goal was to be inclusive of all international students, we were challenged due to our focus on both reproductive and sexual health, the diversity of international students, respecting their participation in the consultations and co-design, as well as those of our partners and stakeholders. Bringing together and respecting the values and cultural perspectives of international students through co-design alongside those of mainstream sexual health services to promote safe sex messages has been a challenge.
Meeting our ambitious project objectives within the project timeline and budget was also a challenge, especially the time taken for ethics approval with consideration to student study calendars and facilitating consultations and co-design. The highlight has been working with international students to gain a greater understanding of not only their SRH needs, but their mental health needs and experiences in a new country. Consequently, our work doesn't end with the project resource, as based on the conversations and surveys with students and service providers, we have a lot of advocacy work to progress as well as the possibility of additional projects.
Early Parenting Program Coordinator, Child, Youth and Family Services