Community leaders say that swine flu is sweeping through Australia's
largest aboriginal communities on Palm Island off the Queensland coast.
Elders say the government's approach to tackling the disease in
indigenous communities is not working.
The latest victim on Palm Island of the H1N1 virus is a pregnant woman, who lost her unborn child after contracting the disease.
estimate that more than 10 percent of the island's population of 3,000
people has been infected, although authorities do not yet have an exact
Like indigenous groups and poor communities around
the world, Australia's Aborigines are considered to be more vulnerable
to the H1N1 flu than other groups because they suffer higher rates of
chronic disease. They also often have limited access to health care and
live in overcrowded homes, which make it easier for the virus to spread.
workers have set up a special clinic on the island to treat flu
patients, and the government has flown in supplies of antiviral drugs.
Tribal elders, however, call on state and federal governments to
improve their swine flu strategies for Aborigines.
Michael Gracey represents Unity of First People of Australia, a
community organization, and says Aborigines need to be better informed
about the flu.
"It is very important also for mainstream health
professionals, in other words Western doctors and nurses and public
health officials, to communicate better [and] that perhaps the best way
to get messages across to these high risk people, like indigenous
communities, are one on one," he said.
More than 13,000 cases
of the H1N1 virus have been confirmed in Australia. Although most
patients suffer only a mild illness, scores of people are being treated
in hospitals and more than 45 people have died because of complications
related to the flu.
Government-sponsored vaccine trials have
started in the southern city of Adelaide. An effective vaccine is
likely to be available in October. However, Australian health
authorities expect a sharp rise in the number of swine flu infections
in August, toward the end of winter in the southern hemisphere.