Tuberculosis Epidemic in Queensland Feared, Official Wants Borders Near PNG Closed

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By Reissa Su | July 25, 2013 7:57 PM EST

Papua New Guineans are being barred from entering Torres Strait Islands over fears of a deadly epidemic which has already killed one.

Locals said that the state and federal government efforts were not enough in stopping a tuberculosis epidemic from happening. People fear the disease might spread towards the mainland.

Regional Council Mayor Fred Gela at Torres Strait said an elderly woman died from tuberculosis in April. Since then, the council has refused to let Papua New Guinea traders to set foot on the islands.

Before a Papua New Guinean could enter any of the 14 islands, council staff will need to sign temporary permits. In 2012, about 26,000 permits were issued.

Mr. Gela said the council has been forced to take action since there is no medical check performed on the PNG traders. The council sees it as a precautionary measure to prevent a potential epidemic.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said Queensland does not have sufficient funds from the government to attend to the sick Papua New Guineans who travel across the border every year.

Mr. Springborg said Mayor Gela wanted to close the border but only the Commonwealth government can do that. Mr. Gela said the tuberculosis outbreak in Torres Strait is an epidemic and it has worsened over the years.

Mr. Gela has warned officials not to dismiss Torres Strait and turn a blind eye on the diseases that have spread in the area. He also said the epidemic could reach the mainland. What's happening is "everybody's business."

Asylum seekers have also been treated in Queensland hospitals as reported by the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Hospital and Health Service.

The increasing number of asylum seekers crossing the border of Australia is cause for concern in Queensland as they could spread diseases and infect the local population.

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