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Swine flu scares at Palm Island -

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Swine flu scares at Palm Island

Di Bain reported this story on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 12:14:00

PETER CAVE: The Mayor of Palm Island is worried that swine flu will ravage the community and has
likened its living conditions - that's Palm Island's living conditions - to the poorer areas of
Mexico. Alf Lacey says the Government's approach to tackling swine flu isn't working for the
Indigenous population at Palm Island and that a large number of community members are getting sick.

In drafting its guidelines for swine flu, the Federal Government issued information specifically
targeted toward Aboriginal people. But one doctor says that Aboriginal populations need one to one
education.

Di Bain reports.

DI BAIN: Queensland health authorities say they don't know how many people at Palm Island have
swine flu but reports that 400 out of a population of 3,500 don't come as a surprise to the local
mayor Alf Lacey.

ALF LACEY: That's the most worrying thing for me, it's that in terms of, and certainly my council,
is that because of the close knit community of Palm Island and how we live and things like that,
then certainly I wouldn't be surprised that we'd reach those, we'd reach those numbers you know.

DI BAIN: Yesterday 19-year-old Palm Island local Alma Palmer contracted the virus and had to be
airlifted to hospital in nearby Townsville. She was pregnant and has lost her baby.

The head of Queensland Health Jeanette Young wasn't available to be interviewed for The World Today
on the topic. Mr Lacy says he's worried more people will get sick and health authorities aren't
being forthcoming with information.

ALF LACEY: When we look at our living conditions and we have in excess of about 15 people living in
a three bedroom home, which you wouldn't find that in mainstream communities you know.

DI BAIN: The Federal Government issued its swine flu guidelines in June. It followed advice from
the World Health Organization which put Indigenous populations at high risk.

The Australian Medical Association's Andrew Pesce says that means Aboriginal groups should have
immediate access to Tamiflu.

ANDREW PESCE: They did present with flu like symptoms, then the medical people caring for those
patients should consider early administration of antivirals such as Tamiflu to minimise the chance
that they come down with a very severe variant of the disease.

DI BAIN: Mr Lacey says he only found out that Tamiflu was available at Palm Island on Monday and
he's concerned other locals who can't read or write have no idea about the virus.

ALF LACEY: Given our living condition, and I'll keep on coming back to our living condition, and
our social standards typically on Palm and a lot of Aboriginal communities across the country, then
naturally we may end up in a situation where, like the poverty stricken communities in Mexico, you
know, where their people were more vulnerable - you know the South American Indians, you know,
certainly who are Indigenous people.

DI BAIN: Queensland Health says it's set up flu clinics at Palm Island to treat residents.
Authorities are no longer counting how many people present with the flu, instead they're keeping
numbers on admissions to hospital and deaths.

Professor Michael Gracey is a paediatrician who represents the not-for-profit group Unity of First
People of Australia.

He says pandemics like swine flu have the potential to ravage many remote communities in Australia
and often the Government takes the wrong approach to getting its warnings out.

MICHAEL GRACEY: That's a very good point that the mayor has made, and it is very important also for
mainstream health professionals, in other words Western doctors and nurses and public health
officials, to communicate better that perhaps the best way to get messages across to these high
risk people, like Indigenous communities and the high risk groups within Indigenous communities
that I've identified, are one on one.

PETER CAVE: Professor Michael Gracey, ending that report from Di Bain.