22 August 2018

AMA ramps up pressure over Nauru

AMA Mental Health TheHill

The AMA says it will continue fighting to avert a children’s health crisis on Nauru, after the government flew a critically ill 12-year-old Iranian refugee, who had refused food for almost three weeks, to hospital in Australia.

An aircraft carrying the boy, known as M, and his family arrived on the Australian mainland on Tuesday afternoon, after more than four years in indefinite Australian-run detention on the tiny Pacific island.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said he had been in constant contact with authorities before and since the AMA’s federal council demand last Saturday for “urgent action” by the government.

“What we have specifically highlighted is the plight of vulnerable children and their families,” Dr Bartone told The Medical Republic.

“We have very specifically called on the government to exhaust all avenues in ensuring they can be taken off the island to access appropriate levels of care.”

Dr Bartone met last night with Health Minister Greg Hunt and will seek a meeting with the acting Home Affairs Minister Scott Morrison.

Doctors on Nauru have revealed that the Australian Border Force has routinely refused to accept their clinical recommendations that M, and other sick refugees, be moved off the island to receive medical care.

“He is now at day 19 of food refusal,” his treating doctor wrote in a medical assessment last Sunday, reported by The Guardian Australia.

“Likewise apart from sips of water and the … dextrose solution that he was given, he has not had any significant oral hydration. His last bowel motion was 15-plus days ago and he rarely passes dribbles of urine painfully.”

Accounts are rife of mental illness manifested in self-harm or a condition dubbed “resignation syndrome” among the more than 100 children remaining on Nauru.

“Everyone on the island knows how serious this is. We have been saying for months a child is going to die in these circumstances,” an official on Nauru said.

“A child is going to die. Every day we get closer. It’s never been so critical.”

Dr Bartone said media accounts had shocked doctors into action.

“Once we became aware of the media reports, we certainly became fulsome in our approaches through the various channels to try to understand the current situation and what was being done in terms of ensuring our international obligations and the expectations of Australians about the care of people in the care of the Australian government,” he said.

“At this stage the discussions continue in all quarters to get some action in accordance with the motions we passed on the weekend.”

At Saturday’s meeting, the AMA federal council called for urgent action to prevent further harm to the health and welfare of child refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.

“We ask that these children and their families be removed from harm and have access to healthcare of an appropriate standard,” the council said.

The council also repeated an earlier demand that the government allow a delegation of Australian doctors, appointed in consultation with the AMA, to assess the health and welfare of child refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.

Thirdly, the AMA demanded comprehensive explanations of the healthcare arrangements for children held on Nauru and the arrangements for them and their families when they needed transfers off the island for healthcare.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday said that her government’s offer to take up to 150 refugees from Australian-run detention in Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, still stood.

She also said her government had directly approached Nauruan authorities with the offer, but they insisted Australia would need to agree.

In rejecting New Zealand’s original offer, former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claimed the deal would trigger a resurgence of people-smuggling boats trying to reach Australia.

The coalition government has been adamant that no asylum seekers who have attempted to reach Australia by boat may ever be settled in Australia.