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Health Wrap: Beating the bad bugs; counting the health costs; healthy minds, healthy bodies and more

Wishing you good health while reading the Wrap, compiled by Robert Button, Media and Communications Manager at the Sax Institute. Be sure to be social and share your news and views @SaxInstitute

Beating the bad bugs

‘Rubbing shoulders’ has always had its pros and cons, but the risk of sharing a raft of disease-causing nasties along with the love is an ever-present downside. An ABC report looking into what’s behind the rise of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia found that while an increase in testing might be responsible for the increase in chlamydia notifications, some studies suggest online dating apps could contribute to higher numbers of sexual partners, and higher risk of infections.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported that four open heart surgery patients in Sydney faced added complications from a slow-growing bacterial infectionMycobacterium chimaera, that may have joined the pathogenic jet set by hitching a ride here in German-made heater-cooler units. NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said while the overall risk of M chimaera infections after cardiac surgery was “very low”, patients who underwent open heart surgery between 2012 and August 2016 should be alert to the symptoms:

“Early identification of these infections is critical because it allows for early treatment to begin and this leads to better patient outcomes.”

SBS called for the community to vaccinate now, as the Sydney Morning Herald described this year’s as the worst flu season in at least 15 years, with more than 70,000 people struck down so far. Flu expert Dr Margie Danchin told The Age that poor information about flu vaccination for children had contributed to the high number of cases:

“The strong message that we get … is that GPs tell them not to get the flu vaccine if their children are under five, when in fact the [correct] message is the complete opposite.”

While on the benefits of vaccinating children, The Daily Telegraph reported that NSW Health was urging parents to ensure their children received the rotavirus vaccine, as well as calling for regular hand washing, after an outbreak of viral gastroenterisis hit Sydney with more than 2000 cases reported. NSW Health Director of the Communicable Diseases branch Dr Vicky Sheppeard said, “Norovirus and rotavirus spread easily from person to person, particularly if hands are not carefully washed after using the toilet or before handling food.”

And ABC News reported that the West Australian Health Department had taken steps to stop the spread of a measles outbreak at a Perth private school attended by up to 200 children who have not been immunised. According to the ABC, the Australian Medical Association WA President Dr Omar Khorshid accused the school of being irresponsible for failing to act on the WA Government’s offer of a mobile clinic to immunise vulnerable students:

“It is very concerning that a school would not be interested in making sure its students are protected from measles, particularly when you know you have a high-risk situation with a carrier of measles … [and] where you’ve got a couple of hundred kids who are not immune.

Of great concern further afield, half a million people are suspected of having contracted cholera in Yemen and 2000 have died from the diarrhoeal disease over the past four months, according to Stat News. The already under-resourced health care system is collapsing under the weight of the outbreak, the WHO has warned.


Prevention better than cure

Getting the science message across to an audience is quite an art, as Marge Overs, Communications Manager at The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre discovered in a five-day boot camp at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in New York, as she describes in this article on Croakey.

One piece of science communication that was successful in capturing global attention this fortnight was the sensational preventive health news about new Australian research showing that vitamin B3 taken by expectant mothers might, in some cases, prevent both pregnancy loss and birth defects.

Medical News Today offered a straight-forward report on the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The Daily Telegraph loudly trumpeted eating more of Aussie icon Vegemite could be a step in the right direction.

Writing for The Conversation, Lloyd Cox Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, Claire Roberts, offered a more cautious message. In the piece, cross-posted at Croakey, she warned that while it is an interesting and well-done study, the researchers didn’t actually give vitamin B3 to any humans, so more information about the benefits of B3 in pregnancy was needed before pregnant women started taking the vitamin. 

The Huffington Post signalled progress being made in safeguarding the health of more than 30,000 Australians at high risk of contracting HIV. The drug used in HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), Truvada, has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use in Australia, and is currently being used in several trials across the country.

While the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee previously rejected proposals to add Truvada to the PBS as a preventative measure for people yet to contract HIV, it recently revisited last year’s decision and was set to publish its new recommendation on whether PrEP drugs should be listed on the PBS this month, the report said.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in March, asking for the government to ensure PrEP is listed on the PBS and expand trials of the drug.

You would be aware that for HIV negative people who are at high risk of HIV, PrEP has been proven to be highly effective in preventing HIV transmission,” he wrote at the time. 


Counting the health costs

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the latest Surgical Variance Report published by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Medibank. It revealed some surgeons are charging thousands of dollars more than their colleagues for the same orthopaedic operation, leaving patients with up to $5,500 in out-of-pocket costs.

Grattan Institute Health Program Director Stephen Duckett, writing for The Conversation, also looked at the issue of specialists fees, saying Australians pay too much when they go to medical specialists and that the government should do more to drive prices down. He wrote:

“Excessive costs for specialist care hit patients in the hip pocket and can discourage some from seeking appropriate treatment. Driving these costs down would make Australia a fairer and healthier nation.”

Meanwhile, in its submission to a Senate inquiry on private health insurance, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office warned health insurance comparison tools would not address rising affordability concerns, The Australian Business Review reported (paywall). The submission stated:

“New comparison tools will not address the overall problems for consumers as little evidence has been presented to our office through complaints that consumers find it difficult to switch from one insurer or policy to another.”

And Croakey took a look at how private health insurance has shifted from its origins in Britain’s friendly societies into today’s large, complex health funds which compete for their share of the “high stakes” private health insurance market.

Unhappy aged care workers leaving the profession present other serious costs to healthcare, according to Australian Ageing Agenda. It detailed a study that highlighted the importance of workplace conditions in a sector plagued by poor retention and the cost of replacement and training.


Healthy minds, healthy bodies

The philosophers have long pondered the source of happiness, but this piece in The Conversation explored what we do and don’t know about the causes of depression. UNSW Scientia Professor Gordon Parker concluded there is no“one size fits all” model for considering “depression”.

“There are multiple types of depression (normal and clinical), with the latter reflecting differing biological, psychological and social causes and therefore requiring treatments that address the primary causal factor.”

Newly appointed National Mental Health Commissioner Lucy Brogden believes workers should be allowed to take sick days without giving their boss a reason, and that employers must become more innovative in how they combat mental health problems among staff, as reported by The Daily Telegraph,

New Matilda provides a sobering picture from Tim Deane-Freeman of the impacts of depression and explores the way mindfulness may provide some relief. In 2015, 3000 people died by suicide in Australia, with First Nations Australians between the ages of 15-24 four times as likely to die in this way.

Meanwhile, ABC News reported on how Aboriginal woman Miriam Rose Baumann in Nauiyu, south of Darwin, was helping stressed non-Aboriginal Australians find peace through traditional forms of meditation. She said:

“It’s just chilling-out time and sometimes the non-Indigenous people who come here find that really, really stressful.”

She said the Aboriginal meditative practice ‘Dadirri’ describes “deep listening and silent awareness.”

“It’s about, I suppose, the make-up of who Aboriginal people are and it’s about belonging as well … and just continuously making yourself aware of where you’ve come from, why you are here, where are you going now and where you belong.”


Working with communities for better health

A researcher studying the impact of the cashless welfare card has linked the Federal Government’s welfare program to the issue of youth suicides in the Kimberley, according to the ABC. Melbourne University researcher Elise Klein believes the cashless card program would add to the disempowerment felt by Aboriginal people in the region.

“It has become a symbol of not having control over one’s life and of state intervention over people’s lives,” she said.

The ABC also told of a deputy school principal’s concerns about difficulties in getting suspected cases of abuse against older Aboriginal children investigated by child protection authorities. His comments were made while giving evidence at an inquest examining the suicides of 13 teenagers and young adults in the Kimberley.

Croakey reported that while a key strategy for improving the health of Aboriginal Australians was to increase the number of Aboriginal people working as healthcare providers, a survey by the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association had revealed “systemic racism” in medical training. AIDA President, Dr Kali Hayward, wrote:

“The survey identified that effective measures to redress racist behaviours and attitudes in the workplace are essential; so are those addressing systemic racism.”

The government needs to “let go” and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “need to be put in the driver’s seat” to improve the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First People according to a new report. Lowitja Institute CEO Romlie Mokak told Pro Bono News findings of the report demonstrated that governments needed to focus on building collaborative partnerships with communities.

We need robust partnerships where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in the driver’s seat, leading innovative reform to improve the health and wellbeing of our people.

Croakey reported on the 20-year anniversary of the Lowitja Institute, as well as looking at the story behind an Indigneous-led innovation called the First 1,000 Days Australia, which involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, researchers, community members, front-line workers and policy makers working together to provide a coordinated, comprehensive, culturally-informed intervention to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Meanwhile, opening the Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health (SEARCH) Annual Forum in Sydney, Federal Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt, acknowledged the important milestones achieved to date in collaborative research in urban Aboriginal child health.

“It [SEARCH] is one of the many “jewels in the crown” I see, from the Pitjanjatjarra lands to Pyrmont here in Sydney – shining examples of life-changing Indigenous care and research, that translates into happier, healthier children on the streets and in schools, homes and playgrounds.”


Other Croakey news you may have missed this fortnight:

 

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