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The Health Wrap: Human rights and health; childhood trials; Indigenous health matters

This fortnight’s Health Wrap is compiled by Frances Gilham, Digital Communications Manager at the Sax Institute. Enjoy the Wrap and tweet us via @SaxInstitute if you have any ideas for future issues.


Human rights and health

Overshadowing much other news this fortnight was the database published by The Guardian containing 2,000 leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers on Nauru, which it said laid bare “devastating trauma and abuse inflicted on children held by Australia in offshore detention”.

Following the publication of the Nauru files, Croakey provided a wrap of responses from major health groups and figures, including Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon, whose statement read:

“Having children in detention is harmful – it causes physical, psychological, emotional, and developmental harms. The AMA has called for all children to be removed from detention facilities and placed into the community, where they can be properly cared for.”

Over on The Conversation, migration and refugee law experts Khanh Hoang and Madeline Gleeson considered the legal and policy frameworks that allowed this situation and the need for greater transparency in Australia’s refugee policy, and called on the Government to act swiftly in response to the evidence provided in the documents.

The Guardian reported on widespread international condemnation now being faced by the Australian Government, from groups such as United Nations agencies and Amnesty International, and Croakey explained how local groups were calling for Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to extend its inquiry to Nauru in response to the incident reports.

The Royal Commission took the unusual step of releasing a public statement, saying there was “an ongoing investigation in relation to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse in detention centres”, according to The Guardian.

And the ABC reported on the response from the Nauru Government, which is claiming “most” of the claims of abuse were “fabricated”.


Childhood trials

Around the world, many family and child health policy authorities have been responding to bad news of their own.

The Guardian published a story reporting on what it calls “New Zealand’s most shameful secret”; that a third of all New Zealand children now live below the poverty line.

In Scotland, the Government released a new Child Poverty Bill to reduce the number of children living in poverty, which Equalities Minister Angela Constance said is currently one in five, according to the BBC.

The BBC also reported on Scotland’s proposed ‘Named Person Scheme’, which would provide every child from birth to 18 years access to a ‘Named Person’; a single point of contact for information or advice, or if they want to talk about any worries and seek support. After parts of the scheme were labelled unlawful by the Scottish Supreme Court, the Government is considering changes to the law such as excluding children after the age of 16.

The ABC reported on legislation being drafted in South Australia to improve its child protection system after a Royal Commission found a major overhaul was needed. And in NSW, a parliamentary inquiry heard that people were waiting up to an hour on hold to report child abuse with the state government’s child protection helpline, an article in The Sydney Morning Herald said.

In research news, Lindsay Kindinger, from Imperial College London, wrote an article for The Conversation about her research which found a commonly used method of preventing early or preterm birth may in fact be causing more to occur, and leading to further problems.

Research also found babies just below the cutoff for a hypothyroidism diagnosis may be more likely to struggle with numeracy and literacy in primary school, and that paracetamol use in pregnancy may be linked to behavioural problems in children, according to articles in The Sydney Morning Herald.


Indigenous health matters

Child safety issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were also in the news, with ABC reporting on a new $6 million Queensland Government fund aiming to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care.

Also from Queensland came news of an innovative health service targeting Indigenous eye disease and diabetes at remote sites across the state, which has has notched up more than 100 visits in just over two years, treating thousands at risk, according to The Australian (paywall).

The ABC reported on a study by the Menzies School of Health Research that shows petrol sniffing rates in Indigenous communities have declined by up to 88 per cent since the introduction of low aromatic unleaded fuel 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported on the fraught issues surrounding 7,000 historic blood samples collected from Indigenous Australians in the 1960s and 1970s that could connect members of the Stolen Generations to their families and improve healthcare for chronic diseases, but not without confronting a troubled legacy of scientific exploitation and racial classification.

Also highlighted in discussion of Indigenous health issues this fortnight was the effect racism has on health and wellbeing.

Yin Paradies, Professor of Race Relations at Deakin University, wrote a piece for The Conversation exploring how racism can make people sickCeleste Liddle wrote on the Daily Life website about how the shocking death of NSW Aboriginal woman Lynette Daley could be used as a case study to demonstrate the inherent racism in our justice system. Croakey published an open letter from more than 200 people working in the media, communications and related fields which called on The Australian to apologise for publishing a racist Bill Leak cartoon.

Melissa Davey wrote for The Guardian about the Aboriginal Health Matters project, which is trying to address the issue and will present a report of concerning cases to the Australian Human Rights Commission to ask for a formal investigation into the treatment of and discrimination and bias against Indigenous Australians in the health system.

Providing some well-timed data to help inform hospital administrators seeking to make a difference was a recent Bureau of Health Information report, highlighting the difference between how Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians experience hospitals in NSW, which was starkest in rural areas. The Sydney Morning Herald covered this report.

Croakey also reported disquiet from Indigenous health advocates over comments by former Victorian Premier and current beyondblue chair Jeff Kennett that the ABC’s Four Corners program on the abuse of detainees at Darwin’s Don Dale youth detention centre was “unbalanced” and politically motivated.


Big data and system failures

Another headliner this fortnight was the census.

In the lead-up to its – planned– completion by the nation on Tuesday 9 August, several prominent Australians including independent senator Nick Xenophon announced they would not be including their name on their census form, citing privacy concerns, The Guardian reported.

But health academics Fiona Stanley, Terry Nolan and John Mathews argued on The Mandarin that the census did not breach privacy; its nature as a de-identified aggregate dataset would in fact provide Australians with immense value via its ability to inform public service provision and decision-making.

On the night of the census, millions of Australians were prevented from completing their census form online when the website crashed due to what the Australian Bureau of Statistics originally described as a ‘hack’ according to the ABC.

This was quickly denied by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnull who reassured Australians that their “census data is safe, it has not been compromised. The site has not been hacked, it has not been interfered with,” as reported by The Conversation.

The Mandarin provided good coverage of the debacle, including an article on five lessons the Government should take away from the incident.

On Croakey, Alison Verhoeven from the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association wrote about why the census data is so important, citing its ability to assist with decisions about where hospitals and health services should be located, what services they should provide and how health funding is distributed.

In contrast, three academics from Queensland University of Technology’s School of Law wrote that the census threatens privacy and our civil liberties.

In other news of apparent system failures, the media continued to cover news about medical errors at New South Wales hospitals. In the Fairfax press, Kate Aubusson wrote about what she described as a “poisonous” culture in NSW hospitals, and Sean Nicholls wrote about the practice of issuing unapproved doses of restricted powerful antibiotics in the state’s hospitals.

And The Australian reported that the chemotherapy dosing scandal will be investigated by a NSW parliamentary committee, but not the special commission of inquiry for which Labor was pushing.


A carnival of chronic disease

Croakey ran a piece highlighting the ways the Rio Olympics were failing to promote health – from global warming to a “carnival of junk food marketing”.

Also on food marketing, was news from public health group LiveLighter, whose study found almost half of supermarket snack food products labelled as “natural” were considered to be unhealthy.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon, in an address to the National Press Club, said that while the association supported a sugar tax, it alone would not solve the obesity epidemic, as reported by The Guardian.

“Too often we hear about the demonisation of Coca-Cola, the demonisation of McDonalds, when people make bad decisions about food they put in their mouth every day,” he said. “The fact is that they buy from supermarkets [and] eat so much processed foods full of sugar, solids and trans fats. This is the real problem. We can’t just have a simple idea that this is the one solution.”

The MJA published a perspectives piece looking at the evidence that the paleolithic diet could help with Type 2 Diabetes, finding it lacking.

And the BBC reported on how under-reporting energy consumption could be skewing data that nations are using to plan obesity campaigns, quoting researchers saying over-eating may play a bigger role in obesity than previously thought. They said:

“Physical activity is good for your health and heart but reducing calories is a more effective strategy to combat obesity.”

An innovative suggestion to reduce cardiovascular disease was posed by by former BMJ Editor Richard Smith for The Kings Fund, who said  the UK NHS should offer a polypill to prevent heart disease to everybody from their 55th birthday onwards.

Solutions are sorely needed, with research published in Circulation and reported on by The Australian (paywall) finding that rates of high blood pressure have skyrocketed in the third world, overtaking the prevalence in high-income countries for the first time – and that two-thirds of affected adults in developing nations were unaware of their condition.

New obesity research also featured in the news, with The Age reporting on an MJA perspectives piece that suggested pregnancy was not a good time to lose weight, and an Australia and New Zealand Journal of Surgery study that found obesity surgery performed at Melbourne’s The Alfred Hospital had resulted in excellent outcomes.

Finally, The Conversation reported on a study that found that the longer a woman has been overweight or obese, the higher her cancer risk.


Other Croakey posts you might have missed

Frances Gilham is the Digital Communications Manager at the Sax Institute. Follow @SaxInstitute or @francesgilham on Twitter.

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