Doctors for Refugees welcomed the news that 15 doctors working on Christmas Island have spoken out about conditions in the detention centre.
Dr Barri Phatarfod from Doctors for Refugees said that Christmas Island Detention medical practitioners had revealed in a letter a number of vulnerability risk factors.
“The conditions revealed in the letter – long delays in transfer to mainland hospitals, resulting in potentially life threatening risks, and unsafe care of pregnant women – these should be shocking, but unfortunately we have heard it all too often from professionals who have witnessed them first hand,” said Dr Phatarfod.
Another Doctors for Refugees physician, Dr Richard Kidd raised tuberculosis as an issue. In the last few years, The Stringer has met a rising number of detained asylum seekers who contracted tuberculosis.
“Particularly alarming is the mass exposure to tuberculosis, due to inadequate time for its diagnosis. The government has responded by closing down the Immigration Health Advisory Group, the only official independent body reporting on the health of refugees and asylum seekers.”, said Dr Kidd.
Doctors for Refugees is a group of concerned medical professionals who are campaigning for fair and humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. “We believe doctors have a responsibility to raise our concerns about the human cost of indefinite detention,” said Dr Phatarfod.
In August, Doctors for Refugees was launched – a group of Australian doctors and other health practitioners campaigning for better treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Dr Phatarfod said she joined the group because she had become excruciatingly aware of the deterioration in mental health in the majority of those indefinitely detained.
“I am concerned about the health conditions of refugees, especially mental health problems that are either caused by prolonged and indefinite detention or severely exacerbated by it.”
“How is it good medicine to delay treatment for any condition and then deal with complications years down the track?”
“It is understandable that the (detention centre) doctors involved in these practices express fear they could be putting their medical registration at risk by participating in unethical conduct and in gross departures from clinical standards. This reinforces the fact that it is a health issue and therefore one that should concern all doctors,” said Dr Phatarfod.
“We encourage all doctors and health professional to join our organisation.”
Far too often it is individuals who have to coalesce to help vulnerable and disenfranchised peoples where governments appear to fail them. The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre is another example of people from many backgrounds supporting asylum seekers and refugees, the Human Rights Alliance Australia with its myriad support programs, and organisations such as the wholly volunteer Wheelchairs for Kids stepping in where Australia’s international aid is failing or compromised – having manufactured and donated more than 26,000 children’s wheelchairs to 68 countries, with a shipment of 506 children’s wheelchairs currently on their way to Pakistan.
In 2008, Dr Ramzi Barnouti organised free medical care for asylum seekers where the Government would not subsidise it. The Iraqi born doctor coalesced a small team of pro bono doctors to provide general and specialist medical care and dental care.
The then 70 year old retired urologist approached the Red Cross in 2006 to develop the pro bono scheme.
“I chose refugees because these are people who need help very much.”
He put his team of doctors together from within the Yellow Pages. “Just call doctors and they will agree, anywhere in the world, 99 per cent will say yes.”
At the time 20 doctors and 16 dentists responded.
One of the doctors who joined was Dr Dawood Haddad, an outer Sydney physician. “A lot of my patients come from refugees countries. I know how much suffering they have been through.”
“I don’t want them to endure more suffering by depriving them of very basic health needs. Taking on one patient out of 30 without charging is no big deal.”