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The Health Wrap: Seeking justice, political rumblings, around the globe, the weather report

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


Seeking justice

Australia’s justice system – and in particular the way young Indigenous people are treated in detention centres – has dominated national headlines this fortnight, after shocking footage of the brutalisation of boys at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory was revealed by an ABC Four Corners report aptly entitled “Australia’s Shame”.

As ABC’s Media Watch pointed out, many of the abuses detailed in the report had actually been reported previously by media outlets including the NT News and the Koori Mail, but it was the “power of a picture” – the distressing CCTV footage of boys being abused at Don Dale – that finally saw governments and Australia react.

Writing in the Guardian, Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission, said she was shocked but not surprised by the program, which she watched from the green room at the ABC studios along with fellow Q&A panelists. She wrote:

“It beggars belief that the measured and evidence-based reports by so many experts had been ignored by governments.”

This time, Government action was swift. Within 24 hours of the story airing, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had announced a Royal Commission into abuse in juvenile justice in the NT, and the NT’s Corrections Minister was stood aside.

“Like all Australians, we were shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the detention centre. Every child in our justice system must be treated with humanity and respect at all times,” Mr Turnbull said.

By then, the story was making headlines not only in Australia, but internationally, with the BBC, the UK’s Independent newspaper and the Washington Post among those that reported on the abuses.

As reported on Croakey, more than 100 organisations (including many health groups) backed a call for the Royal Commission to go beyond NT and take a national approach, while health and legal groups raised concerns about the Commission processes.

As this piece on The Conversation pointed out, abuse in youth detention is not restricted to the Territory, and while the inquiry may help uncover the truth behind the mistreatment of young people in NT detention, we are left wondering why our regulatory systems have failed, not only in the Northern Territory but throughout Australia.

The appointment of former NT Supreme Court Justice Martin, Brian Ross Martin to head the Royal Commission was also broadly lambasted by Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory, due to concerns about a conflict of interest around his previous role in the NT justice system. So much so that within days, Justice Martin voluntarily relinquished the role.

Croakey reported that the subsequent appointment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and former Queensland Supreme Court Justice  Margaret White to lead the Royal Commission was welcomed by Indigenous and mainstream justice and rights leaders.

There were calls for Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to resign, after he admitted he had been briefed on evidence of what was happening in Northern Territory’s youth detention system in October last year, according to The Australian (paywalled), despite him previously having said he knew nothing about the allegations prior to the episode of Four Corners.

As activists gathered at Don Dale detention centre calling for the release of boys who are still in detention after being subjected to alleged abuse at the hands of corrections staff,  Liana Buchanan, Victoria’s Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, and Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, warned that the issue goes far deeper than what happened within the detention centre.

In this article in Croakey‘s #JustJustice series, they wrote that the kind of mistreatment Australians watched with distress from the Northern Territory showed the potential consequence of an overly simplistic, punitive approach to youth crime.

“It shows us what can happen when we demonise young offenders and ignore what causes them to offend.”

Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders also reacted angrily this week to a cartoon by Bill Leak on Don Dale that was widely criticised, as Croakey reported, for being racist and derogatory.

Chelsea Bond, Senior Lecturer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSIS Unit) at the University of Queensland wrote at The Conversation that Leak’s cartoon was a reminder of the need interrogate and scrutinise “what white men are saying and doing to black Australia (men, women and children) and the lived consequences of these commentaries, caricatures and policies on the lives of black people in this country”.

“The responsibility that is being absolved in Leak’s cartoon, is one that has long been avoided, and that is of the abuse experienced by Aboriginal people within government run/sanctioned institutions, be they missions, reserves, dormitories, detention centres, or gaols, most of which have been under the stewardship of white men.”

The cartoon, however, sparked the very moving #IndigenousDads hashtag on Twitter, with many Indigenous fathers and their families sharing photos and memories of love and dedication, and pride in Aboriginal culture, as the ABC reported. Croakey also published this compilation of #IndigenousDads tweets.


Political rumblings

The fallout from the federal election continues with The Guardian reporting on a new poll that showed the most influential issues during the election were health policies (60% of the sample rated them as very important), Medicare (58%), economic management (53%) and “which party was better for me and my family” (53%).

ABC News Online reported that the Australian Federal Police have dropped their investigation into text messages about Medicare privatisation sent to voters on election day warning that re-electing a Turnbull Government would put the system at risk.

Health Minister Sussan Ley defended the Medicare freeze and vowed to consult with medical practitioners on any changes to be made by the Turnbull government, according to The Australian (paywall), which also revealed Ms Ley and the Prime Minister met officials in the Health Department to discuss Coalition policies and the challenges that are confronting the portfolio.

Croakey offered the health minister some advice on the way forward in health policy in this article, while the Australian Medical Association publication Australian Medicine reported that investors believed the success of Labor’s Medicare campaign and the Coalition’s slender margin of support in Parliament have virtually killed off the chances of significant health reforms in this term of government.

The federal government’s healthcare agenda was also the the target of a new report released by an expert group of medicos, consumer advocates and researchers that said the current outdated system required “an absolute redesign of infrastructure, health team roles and models of delivery care around the needs of the patient”, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

And on the Federal Opposition front, Bill Shorten revealed his new look cabinet, taking on the Indigenous Affairs portfolio himself, while leaving Catherine King in charge of health.


Hospitals in the news

NSW hospitals have been in the media spotlight, with widespread coverage of a hospital error that left one newborn baby dead and another facing long-term brain damage at Sydney’s Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, after the babies were administered nitrous oxide rather than oxygen as a result of the gas being wrongly connected to an outlet in an operating theatre.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that NSW Premier Mike Baird was standing by Health Minister Jillian Skinner over the issue, and ABC News Online reported that a State Government interim report into the mix-up had led to an engineer at the hospital being stood down, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, a report into the under-dosing of chemotherapy patients at St Vincent’s Hospital confirmed that the number of patients affected was higher than previously thought, with more than 100 cancer patients given incorrect doses of chemotherapy by a senior doctor at the hospital. Two more Sydney hospitals became involved when it was revealed three haematology patients at St George and Sutherland hospitals in the city’s south had also been affected by a doctor’s chemotherapy treatment, The Guardian reported.

A key health service overseen by the South Australian government has been described as “dysfunctional” by an inquiry into a prostate cancer testing incident involving incorrect test results in that state, The Australian revealed (paywalled). One of 52 men who received false positive tests for prostate cancer was given unnecessary radiation treatment, a report into the incident released by SA Health Minister Jack Snelling found.

 And The Guardian reported on a Grattan Institute report that found where you live has a major impact on your chances of being admitted to hospital for preventable illnesses, with remote areas of Queensland and outer suburbs of Melbourne among the areas with the highest admission rates.

The weather report

The need for a policy response to the health impacts of climate change was the focus of this article on Croakey by Dr Tim Senior in which he revealed he was already seeing people in his own practice who have been affected by events linked to climate change.

His comments came as we learned that Russia has confirmed 21 cases of anthrax, including one fatality, after an unusual heatwave melted permafrost in its remote far north, releasing potentially lethal spores from the soil, as reported by ABC News Online. The first outbreak of anthrax since 1941 came after a month of temperatures soaring up to 35 degrees Celsius, which melted upper layers of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, and sparked wildfires.

The Guardian reported that the world is “careening towards an environment never experienced before by humans”, with record-breaking air and ocean temperatures, historically high sea levels and carbon dioxide exceeding an important milestone, according to the “state of the climate” report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NoAA) with input from hundreds of scientists from 62 countries.

And the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the new Federal Science Minister Greg Hunt has ordered a major change of direction at the CSIRO, reviving climate research as a central function in contrast to previous recent cuts to climate staff and programs.


In sickness and in health

In one piece of good news this fortnight, we learned that hepatitis C could be be eliminated as a public health threat in Australia within the next “10 to 15 years”.

Hepatitis Australia chief executive Helen Tyrell said treatments had become increasingly effective, with a curative success rate of more than 95 per cent:

 “We’re on track to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat in Australia within 10 to 15 years,” she said.

We learned that inactivity costs are a threat not only to health, but to health finances, costing Australia more than $800 million a year, according to  a world-first study. The Australian reported that the findings, published in The Lancet, come from an analysis of worldwide economic effects of a “global pandemic” of inactivity, which found five major diseases caused by sedentary lifestyles — coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and breast and colon cancer — cost the world about $90 billion a year.

Another in the Lancet’s special series of articles on physical activity revealed that doing at least one hour of physical activity per day, such as brisk walking or cycling for pleasure, may eliminate the increased risk of death associated with sitting for eight hours a day, according to a global study of more than one million people including participants in the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study.

And the Medical Republic publication applauded a trend that is getting people active – Pokemon Go –  saying US findings suggest the game is getting people outside and moving – though it has attracted considerable negative attention for sending players to inappropriate locations.

The Federal Government has heralded its “no vax no pay” campaign a success, with The Sunday Telegraph reporting that more than 5,700 parents who were previously registered as conscientious objectors to vaccination have had their children vaccinated since January, when the policy was introduced requiring parents to meet immunisation requirements to be eligible to receive child care and family tax benefits. Social Services Minister Christian Porter commented:

“I’m particularly pleased to see that large numbers of vaccination objectors are getting the message and doing the right thing by their children and their communities.”

There was also a focus on HIV/AIDS this fortnight, as AIDS 2016, the world’s largest health-and-development-related conference was held in Durban, South Africa.

The Age revealed that an HIV test that can be purchased without a prescription could soon be available in Australia, allowing people to privately get a result within 15 minutes, and The Guardian reported that efforts to combat AIDS in Africa are seriously faltering, with drugs beginning to lose their power, the number of infections rising and funding declining, raising the prospect of the epidemic once more spiralling out of control.

Croakey reported that people living with HIV are up to 30 times more likely than those in the general population to contract tuberculosis (TB), with a new global report showing that patients who are undergoing treatment for HIV often miss out on diagnosis of, and effective treatment for, TB.


 Around the globe

The United States is feeling the impact of the Zika virus, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising against travel to an area in Miami, after 10 additional cases of the virus were discovered and mosquito control efforts were less effective than hoped, according to MedPage Today. US doctors were also being urged to more aggressively screen pregnant women for the virus and to take advantage of new testing technology to improve the diagnosis, follow-up and monitoring of those who have been infected.

And a woman in Spain infected with the Zika virus has given birth to a baby with the brain-damaging disorder microcephaly, her hospital said on Monday, the first case of its kind in Europe.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency is launching a three-year official study of its citizens’ sex lives – the first for 20 years – to guide sexual health policy, the BBC reported.

And in the UK, a young doctor who used her own experiences as a cancer patient to effect lasting change in health care was celebrated and mourned by many, including Croakey, after dying from metastatic desmoplastic small-round-cell tumour. Dr Kate Granger, aged 34, used the time since her diagnosis in 2011 to quality as a geriatrician and work in her native Yorkshire, and also to start a global social media campaign, #hellomynameis, to encourage health care workers to take the simple-but-vital step of introducing themselves to patients when they approach them to take part in their care, as well as fundraising for a cancer charity.


Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

Megan Howe is the Publications Manager at the Sax Institute. Follow @SaxInstitute or @meghowe68 on Twitter.

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