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Australian researchers believe more can be done to prevent leprosy from spreading

Photo: More Aus leprosy prevention needed: report
Australian researchers say more could be done to prevent leprosy from spreading in to Far North Queensland from Papua New Guinea.

James Cook University, Cairns Hospital and Thursday Island Hospital researchers published their findings in The Medical Journal of Australia this week.

"Leprosy is now very rarely acquired in Australia, but it is still diagnosed; Indigenous Australians in remote locations bear the greatest burden of disease," the report states.

Since 1985, Torres Strait Islander Australians and PNG nationals have been able to move freely across the border to purse traditional activities based on their shared cultural history.

"The continuous flow of people between Australia and PNG makes ongoing vigilance essential," says the report.
Lead researcher Dr Allison Hempenstall reviewed all confirmed cases of the disease in Far North Queensland in the past 30 years between 1989 and 2018 and found 20 cases.

A 28-year-old Torres Strait Islander woman diagnosed in 2009 was the most recent Australian-born case after having close contact with a person with leprosy born in PNG.

However, two PNG-born Torres Strait Islanders were also diagnosed with the disease in the past decade.

Despite low numbers in Australia the threat of the disease remains a significant problem in PNG with 388 new cases in 2015 and similar numbers every year since.

Australia will provide an estimated $608 million in development assistance to PNG during 2019-20 for its public health system and to fund non-government organisations involved in containing leprosy.

"However, more could be done. Leprosy is a disabling and infectious condition that can be rapidly cured," the report says.

"Public health programs have dramatically reduced the burden of infectious diseases in Australia.

"More support for similar programs in PNG will not only help our nearest neighbours, but also reduce the risk that infectious diseases almost forgotten by Australians will re-appear."

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