IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 63



04 Globalisation and Growth | Supporting the Australian Government
Major Milestone
Supporting the Australian
Government
In the early 2000s a growing number of immigrants
were arriving in Australia from Asia and other parts
of the world. Those who could not enter legally
would typically arrive by boat and land on Christmas
Island – an Australian protectorate and the first land
fall for those coming from Asia. The Australian
government decided that all illegal maritime arrivals
were to be put into mandatory detention, pending
an assessment of their claim for asylum.
The detention centres were in rural and remote
locations, and were often at former air bases or
army camps. The Australian government made the
commitment that all detainees would receive the
same level of medical care as Australian citizens.
However, delivering emergency care, routine primary
care, psychiatric and psychological care, as well as
providing public health screening and supervising
referrals to the Australian health service was a tall
order. Dr Myles Neri led an Australian team which
advised the government that these medical services
needed to be professionally managed to guarantee
the health and care of all detainees. Although many
commentators were critical of the detention policy,
this was an opportunity to help the government
meet its commitment to deliver appropriate
standards of healthcare. We were appointed to
manage this for the government, in the growing
number of centres across Australia.
For the first six months the service reported directly
to the company running the camps. However, it soon
became clear that this complex situation needed
direct access to the relevant government department.
A subsidiary of International SOS was formed
– International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) –
to deliver this care exclusively to the Immigration
Department. This was our first contract for the provision
of remote site services to a government department;
it was an important contract from a medical services
perspective and a key step in understanding how
to develop partnerships with governments.
We made a clear commitment to deliver an
integrated, holistic healthcare service in an ethical,
professional manner that reflected the government's
commitment to this population, without any form
of discrimination, and with appropriate dignity,
humanity, cultural and gender sensitivity. The
demand for these services quickly grew. Hundreds of
people each month were trying to get into Australia.
They were vulnerable populations with high
incidences of infectious diseases – such as TB,
typhoid, malaria, HIV and STDs – as well as other
chronic medical conditions such as heart disease
and diabetes. They required prompt and accurate
health assessments and treatment.
The detainees were also subject to many
psychological problems. They had often been
subject to torture and other traumas in their home
countries, they had been through challenging
times, a difficult journey and were now in detention.
We were asked to help with this too. Although
provision of mental health care on this scale was
new to us we were happy to accept.
At one time there were over 4,000 people in
detention across 26 centres on the mainland and
recently the IHMS remit has been extended offshore
to two centres (on Manus Island, PNG and Nauru)
with a team of more than 350 people.
Dr Myles Neri: “We are extremely proud of the
services we deliver to detainees and of the highly
skilled professional staff who are dedicated to
deliver this care, in the most challenging of
circumstances, in the most remote of locations.
We are uniquely equipped to provide this service,
and I am pleased that we have been able to help
the government honour its commitment to deliver
comprehensive medical care to this vulnerable
group of people.”
55

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