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Children of Asylum Seekers Dont Get Adequate Medical Care in Australia

Asylum seekers face hostility in many countries. It now turns out that in Australia hundreds of children of the asylum seekers are denied treatment.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is urging the Federal Government not to discriminate when it comes to the health needs of young asylum seekers.

At the moment their visa category makes them ineligible for Medicare coverage.

The College says only a third of asylum seekers living in the community are covered by Medicare and none of them have access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, hearing screening programs or the public dental service.

A serious consequence is that conditions like tuberculosis and malaria are going untreated among those children activists say.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians was among the groups that successfully campaigned for the release of children from immigration detention centres. It is mow turning its attention to the health of asylum seeker children living in the community.

In a study of 70 such children in Melbourne, the College found that 25 per cent hadn't seen a doctor since arriving in Australia and 64 per cent hadn't seen a dentist. Paediatrician Dr Karen Zwi from the Sydney Children' s Hospital chaired a working group looking at their access to treatment.

She says child asylum seekers often suffer from common conditions. They come from deprived circumstances, often African countries or Middle Eastern countries that have had no health services for many years.

"They've been living in refugee camps with poor immunisation, for example, and very little access to medical treatment. So they tend to have common conditions like anaemia, Vitamin D deficiency which leads to rickets, some infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, often early and easily treatable and they tend to be under-immunised, so they haven't had the same level of immuni sation as Australian children have had," Zwi notes.

At its annual conference in Melbourne today, the 9,000 member Royal Australasian College of Physicians is launching a policy urging the Federal Government to end its system which sees access to health care for asylum seekers and refugees determined by their visa category.

The College says a thorough health screen should be made available to all after arrival in Australia and access to this should be coordinated by the Health and Immigration Departments.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians argues comprehensive care health care for child asylum seekers is a humanitarian issue.

Dr Zwi adds, "We know that if we provide good upfront health services to children, young people and, for that matter, adults as they arrive in Australia, they do extremely well. People have experienced enormous hardship and are tremendously resilient. And given the correct opportunities on arrival they tend to settle in and make a fantastic contribution to our society."


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