BY SARAH ELKS
THE AUSTRALIAN and Queensland governments have buckled to demands from top medics to delay the closure of vital tuberculosis clinics in the Torres Strait.
But health professionals are still warning of an impending health disaster if the reprieve is not long enough for Papua New Guinea to bring its TB treatment services in the impoverished Western Province up to scratch.
After a financial dispute between the two governments, the Australian-funded clinics on Saibai and Boigu islands were due to shut on 30 June, forcing more than 50 seriously ill PNG patients to rely on PNG's failing health system for treatment of the deadly disease.
But after warnings from clinicians that people would die, the federal government has agreed to spend $631,000 to keep the clinics open until February, allowing a more thorough patient handover.
However, Cairns-based respiratory physician Stephen Vincent - one of two Queensland doctors who run the remote clinics - still fears for the future of his patients, some as young as four.
"It's good to see we've increased the ability to transition the care (of our patients back to PNG)," Dr Vincent told The Australian, speaking in his capacity as a private physician.
"The ideal situation is that PNG could manage its own TB. But there's a concern that if we fully hand over our clinics prematurely and the PNG TB program, which is in its infancy, fails, it could be a disaster."
The World Health Organisation will launch an independent investigation into TB treatment services in the Western Province next month.
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Source: The Australian, 12 September