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24 Jan 2020

BEN KNIGHT:          Well, speaking of what we might have learned over the years from previous major events and catastrophes, the coronavirus is not the first epidemic scare that we have gone through. But it's interesting to note that there are other countries in the OECD that are doing something that Australia is not, and the Australian Medical Association is scratching its head as to why. So more on that in a moment, but just to update you, Australians are being told to reconsider their need to travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan. It's now in lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus. And the ongoing question: has it arrived in Australia? Well, of course, we know the man who was being monitored in Brisbane has been declared clear, but health officials in New South Wales are now looking into another suspected case. Let's take a listen to the Chief Health Officer of New South Wales, Kerry Chant:

            [Excerpt]

KERRY CHANT:      We have one case that is currently under investigation. We are able to rapidly undertake testing of cases that come to our attention, and either exclude or confirm those cases in a very short timeframe. So, we also deployed a team of eight public health officers, and included in that team were a number of doctors, to the airport. I'm pleased to announce that there weren't any unwell passengers from that direct flight from Wuhan.

            [End of excerpt]

BEN KNIGHT:          Well, we thought we'd have a quick chat this evening with the President of the Australian Medical Association, Tony Bartone, about why Australia doesn't have a centre for disease control. The United States does, it was forefront and centre when there was an Ebola scare in the US; I recall it very well. So do the other countries in the OECD, so do lots of countries around the world. We don't, why not?

Dr Tony Bartone, good afternoon, welcome to RN Drive.

TONY BARTONE:    Good evening.

BEN KNIGHT:          Why do we not have a centre for disease control, and is that a bad thing?

TONY BARTONE:    It's been part of our AMA established policy settings for a number of years now, calling on the Government to establish a centre for disease control and an Australian national centre. And, we believe there are good reasons that should be the case, and other than the policy settings of the Government of the day, there's no clear reason why we haven't progressed along those lines. As you correctly point out, we are the only country in the OECD that doesn't have one. We do have the experiences of recent scares that really led to an improvement in the way we coordinate and share information, but it would seem that especially when we're living in a world where there are always new threats, new evolving threats, and new evolving transmissions in terms of- what we're exposed to, we should be really- in a much more coordinated way, be ready to deal with the information and the effective management of those episodes.

However, let me reassure you, that notwithstanding, the community and the Australian public should remain comfortably reassured that everything that has been put into place at the moment to protect the Australian community from the possible emergence of the spread of the coronavirus in this country, and a coordination already between the various States and Territories and the Chief Medical Officer in his Department has been exceptional. The way that they dealt with the last of the remaining inward bound flights from Wuhan today exemplified the coordination and the measures being put in place. But, you asked why we don't have one, and that would be something that no doubt we'll continue to advocate strongly when this current threat is suitably managed and has passed on from its immediacy.

BEN KNIGHT:          I remember - I think it was 2015 - there was the Ebola scare in the United States, and the centres of disease control- I'm sure people have heard of the United States centres for disease control, they were front and centre, they were everywhere. What were they actually doing? Why do you need a central agency like that and what difference would it make here?

TONY BARTONE:    We have a Federated system, and notwithstanding the coordination that is currently in place, and working well in the immediate-early response to this current threat. A CDC would provide the opportunity for national leadership, for coordination of all the public health responses, to ensure that everyone's on the same page, and everyone has a real understanding, and inform their understanding of the networks and the calibrations required to deal with any threats. We know that diseases don't respect borders, and we're a part of a global society. Every other OECD country has this type of facility, and it would allow sharing in between various countries as well when we do it- and our place in the world as an international citizen, I suppose, would really benefit from us having that ability to have such a centre as well.

BEN KNIGHT:          We'll leave it there, Tony. Thanks for talking to us this afternoon.

TONY BARTONE:    My pleasure.

BEN KNIGHT:          Dr Tony Bartone, he's the President of the Australian Medical Association, the AMA. Did not know that. Australia is the only country in the OECD not to have a centre for disease control. The AMA's been saying it would be a good idea for a few years now. 

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23 January 2020

CONTACT: John Flannery                            02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761


Published: 24 Jan 2020