International students and COVID-19

Ms Alison Coelho1, Ms Aditi Sharma1

1Centre For Culture, Ethnicity And Health, North Richmond, Australia

More than 500,000 international students were in Australia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It not only caused disruption to their study, but they experienced unprecedented problems with their accommodation, employment, and health and wellbeing. COVID-19-related restrictions have had a significant impact on access to healthcare. This includes reduced access to contraception, condoms, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing. This has contributed to an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy, reproductive coercion, STIs, and a multitude of barriers to healthcare.

The International Student Sexual Health Network (ISSHN) is an Australian wide network, established by the Multicultural Health & Support Service (MHSS) in 2015. It promotes the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of international students. At the May ISSHN meeting, the key issues identified were a reduction in access to healthcare, lack of support around material aid, and overt racism.

While the several supports by the state government have facilitated the situation during the pandemic, much more needs to be done to ensure a more timely, coordinated, and systemic approach to affordable and accessible healthcare for international students.

The ISSHN members unanimously agreed to endorse the SHIPP project recommendations by Women’s Health in the North. These recommendations include:

• Access to comprehensive information about OSHC, pregnancy options, and abortion services.
• Online resources containing sex-positive, accurate, and culturally appropriate information.
• Opportunities to co-design culturally appropriate and highly engaging communications strategies.

We will collectively promote the recommendations and seek other opportunities to advocate for the sexual and reproductive health of international students.


Alison Coelho is the Co- Manager of the Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health, Manager Multicultural Health & Support Service, Manager Multicultural Drug Support Partnership.

Alison 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 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 and a member of the of AFAO’s African Reference Group. Alison has significant Local Government experience, coordinating population based health planning, and developing and implementing the first prevention based Health Plan in the State. She has also managed the development of Diversity Strategies, Reconciliation Policies and a Women’s Health Initiative for local Government. As a consultant, she has provided advice on strategic partnerships, planning for innovation and change as well as whole of organisation inclusion policies. Having worked overseas, Alison is committed to addressing the social determinants of health at a systemic level and is an advocate for human rights and health equity.

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