The National, Tuesday 28th August, 2012
THE Australian government is under pressure to reinstate funding for tuberculosis clinics in the Torres Strait islands and Papua New Guinea after warnings of an increase in medical refugees.
Doctors warn a humanitarian crisis unfolding in PNG’s Western Province is spreading to Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville hospitals as more medical refugees seek treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, cholera, AIDS and
leprosy.The Queensland and Australian governments controversially decided to close health clinics in Queensland’s northernmost islands in mid-June despite the World Health Organisation listing it
as a crisis.“They’ve got big problems. And no, we can’t prevent the spread into Australia,” said Dr Graham Simpson, a respiratory specialist in Cairns.“Most drug-resistant TB in this state is imported. It is a slow epidemic, not like the flu season,” he said. “It takes decades and has enormous momentum. Once it gets a hold, it is hard to stop.”He said there was no official notification of the future of TB services in Queensland, with a push to devolve to 17 districts.Outraged nurses rallied in Brisbane last week in protest over plans to close the state’s primary TB control centre at Princess Alexandra hospital, which treats almost half of the average 240 TB cases reported every year.Far North Queensland federal MP Warren Entsch has accused
Aus/AID officials of “incompetence or corruption” in handling the humanitarian disaster of Australia’s nearest neighbour.“We have got highly contagious patients turning up in airports in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane,” he said.“This is bigger than drug-resistant tuberculosis. It is cholera, leprosy, infant mortality
and malnutrition.”Entsch plans a Private Member’s Bill calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the cut-back of services and the handling by AusAID.
North Queensland-based Labor Senator Jan McLucas defended the government’s cuts,
saying funds were instead being directed through foreign aid.