The Australian Medical Association Limited and state AMA entities comply with the Privacy Act 1988. Please refer to the AMA Privacy Policy to understand our commitment to you and information on how we store and protect your data.

×

Search

×

Tough TB bug crosses border after defences cut

Pressure is mounting on the Queensland and Federal governments to reinstate funding for tuberculosis clinics in the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea amid concerns people with drug resistant strains are entering the country in growing numbers. Doctors warn the decision to close health clinics in the Torres Strait islands in June has forced people coming from PNG with drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis to seek treatment further south, in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane.

02 Sep 2012

Pressure is mounting on the Queensland and Federal governments to reinstate funding for tuberculosis clinics in the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea amid concerns people with drug resistant strains are entering the country in growing numbers.

Doctors warn the decision to close health clinics in the Torres Strait islands in June has forced people coming from PNG with drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis to seek treatment further south, in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane.

Cairns-based respiratory specialist Dr Graham Simpson told the Courier Mail said the country was facing a “slow epidemic” of drug-resistant TB as people infected with the disease in PNG came south in search of treatment.

“Most drug-resistant TB in this state is imported,” Dr Simpson said. “It is a slow epidemic, not like the flu season. It takes decades and has enormous momentum. Once it gets a hold, it is hard to stop.”

His warning came as an infectious disease expert cautioned that moves to compulsorily screen immigrants for latent TB may not be straightforward, and involved thorny ethical issues.

In a paper in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Dr Justin Denholm and colleagues from Victorian Infectious Diseases Service argued that people with latent TB infection posed no immediate risk to the community, and may never develop active tuberculosis.

“Therefore, any attempt to exclude or defer potential immigrants on the basis of latent infection would be disproportionate and unjustified,” Dr Denholm and his colleagues said.

While there was little risk involved in testing for latent TB, Dr Denholm said treatment was potentially deleterious, depending on the overall health and age of the patient.

“While testing and medical review could be mandated, a decision to be treated for latent infection should be voluntary, just as it is for citizens,” he said.

Dr Denholm said it could also be deemed discriminatory if screening was applied only to immigrants from countries where TB was highly prevalent.

“Such limitations could be discriminatory, but could also be argued as justifiable,” he said adding that issues surrounding the accuracy of any screening program would also need to be considered.

AR


Published: 02 Sep 2012