PETER MICHAEL | The Courier-Mail
Medical experts are seriously concerned about the handling of the TB epidemic in Papua New Guinea after Catherina Abraham (pictured) died last week of an incurable form of the illness, known as XDR-TB (extensively drug resistant TB) in Cairns Base Hospital.
The 20-year-old had been in an isolation ward since May last year after an outbreak of the highly-contagious mutated form of TB in Daru.
Some doctors fear she will become the first of a wave medical refugees heading to Queensland for treatment.
The State's Chief Health officer Jeanette Young has urged people not to panic about the threat of an outbreak on the mainland.
But respiratory physician Steve Vincent, who treated Ms Abraham, warned that there was a further threat of Totally Drug Resistant or TDR-TB "just around the corner".
"Her death is not unexpected given the fallout of this killer, incurable disease," Dr Vincent said. "Despite all the first-world medical treatment, it shows how difficult it is to control.
"It exemplifies the fact with such a high mortality rate, PNG is going to have an extremely difficult time in handling this epidemic."
He said doctors may soon face the ethical dilemma where it might be "more humane not to treat them and let them die" as the disease was untreatable.
Australian and Papua New Guinean authorities are trying to contain XDR-TB to the shanty towns of Daru as more than 14,500 TB cases are diagnosed in PNG's Western Province every year.
Federal MP Warren Entsch, whose electorate includes the Torres Strait, yesterday said the $31 million AusAID TB program in the Western Province was "riddled with corruption" and "completely inadequate".
He said Ms Abraham's death was a grim reminder of the "looming public health disaster on our doorstep".
XDR-TB is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1 million a patient to treat in Australian hospitals, with a low cure rate and high death rate.
Dr Young said she supported efforts to contain the epidemic to the PNG side of the border and not reopen clinics on the Torres Strait islands of Boigu or Saibai.
She said re-opening health clinics on Boigu or Saibai islands would only increase the risk of cross-border infection in the Torres Strait.