Top Aussie doctor warns of deaths from tuberculosis

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday, June 8th 2011

AUSTRALIA’S decision to close tuberculosis clinics on its northern border by the end of the month will be a “death sentence” for 60 Papua New Guinean patients, a top Australian doctor has warned.
In written advice given to Queensland Health in April, obtained by The Australian, thoracic physician Stephen Vincent said PNG’s Western province did not have the capacity to care for the TB patients.
“The patients on active treatment from our clinic will generally die off once their treatment is stopped,” wrote Dr Vincent, one of the Cairns-based specialists who runs the clinics on two Torres Strait islands.
“Prior to their ultimate death, (drug) resistance will grow and no doubt they will infect others.
“The June 30 date is in effect a death sentence for these patients . . . some of whom are young children.”
When contacted by The Australian, Vincent said he could not speak to the media without permission from Queensland Health.
The Australian and Queensland governments are shutting the clinics for financial reasons.
Patient handover is still being finalised, but it is expected Queensland Health will supply facilities in Western, such as Daru Hospital, with TB drugs to treat the 60 people.
AusAID is working to help PNG improve its health infrastructure in Daru, and throughout Western generally.
However, even PNG’s own Health Secretary, Dr Clement Malau, said he had doubts about Daru Hospital’s capacity to adequately treat TB patients.
While declining to comment on Australia’s decision to shut the Torres Strait clinics, Malau told The Australian that Daru Hospital struggled with access to clean water, sanitation and important medical drugs.
Malau said PNG had a close and strong relationship with the Australian and Queensland governments and was working to overhaul its health system.
However, he said the systemic reforms could take up to a decade to complete.
Andrew Laming, the federal opposition’s spokesman for regional health services, said the closure of the clinics meant “abandoning” the PNG nationals.
“The patients whose lives depend on the Torres Strait clinics find themselves in the precarious situation of no clinical care,” he said.
A Department of Health and Ageing spokeswoman said while the clinics had succeeded in treating TB in individual PNG nationals, they had done little to address the “growing public health challenge”. –  PINA