Drawing Attention to the UNHCR Medical Expert Mission to Papua New Guinea

From the 10th to 16th of November 2017, UNHCR conducted a mission to Papua New Guinea. This included 2 medical experts, Professor Suresh Sundram (Monash University) and Associate Professor Christine Phillips (Australian National University). 

The focus was the men on Manus Island and also in Port Moresby.

The report makes for difficult reading and is accessible by clicking here. It lists a large number of completely unacceptable risks faced by these men, a few of which include:
  • Immediate risks posed by incomplete, substandard, overcrowded accommodation and unsanitary facilities at West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus.
  • Overburdening of the Lorengau General Hospital. Refugees have access to an IHMS Primary Care Clinic, which is only able to deal with primary care issues and within business hours (Mon-Fri 0900-1700; Sat 0900-1300). Outside of business  hours and for all non-primary care issues the Lorengau hospital is expected to take over. The Lorengau hopsital is not equipped to deal with refugee cases or the increased work load.
  • Absence of a functional medical referral and transfer process. Lorengau hospital has no anaesthetist, surgeon or psychiatrist. The seriousness of conditions within the men on Manus Island requires a rapid transfer process to be in place. These conditions include: status epilepticus, acute abdomen, severe physical trauma, acute psychosis and unstable cardiac conditions.
  • Social Risks. The abrupt termination of  torture and trauma counselling and the lack of any proposed replacement is inappropriate and negligently exposes persons of concern to severe psychiatric and psychological consequences. 
  • Gaps in Health service Provision. This is a harrowing list in the report that illustrates a large number of gaps and services that have been discontinued following the move to the new facility. To name a few:
    • There is currently no provision of dental care, optometry and physiotherapy.
    • Access to pharmaceuticals was limited at the time of the report, with a number of drugs such as atypical antipsychotics, SSRIs and tetracyclic antidepressants not available on the Manusian formulary and too expensive on the private market.
    • There is no ambulance and the patient transfer vehicle is not available after hours. Seeking care within business hours is via Triage and requires refugees to request an appointment via Paladin security staff. If the refugee is acutely unwell then they are at the goodwill of Paladin Security staff to transport them to hospital.

Report Recommendations

  1. The Governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea need to identity and address the gaps mentioned in the report. The gaps in accommodation and health services and systems need to be addressed urgently and immediately.
  2. The 2 Governments need to identify a trusted and credible intermediary to work on transition and engagement  with the Manusian community.
  3. The Australian Government must find viable long-term solutions outside Papua New Guinea for all transferred individuals.

Current Landscape

Since the publishing of this report little has changed. A recent article published on Crikey, illustrates how it has been over 4 months since Dr John Brayley, the Surgeon General and Chief Medical Officer of the Australian Border Force, resigned from his post. A position that is yet to be filled. 

"Dr Paddy McLisky, who examines the cases of people held on Papua New Guinea and Nauru for the advocacy group Doctors For Refugees, used to speak with Brayley on a regular basis, providing updates about patients and ensuring the department was aware of those in need of urgent assistance.

Now, McLisky’s group deals with a generic department email address. They don’t know who operates it.

“There’s no medically trained person that we communicate with directly now,” according to Dr McLisky. “That’s the long and the short of it.”"

The fact that these critical decisions are now being made by unnamed individuals, who are not medically trained, is of grave concern to Doctors For Refugees. Raising both issues of competency and accountability.

Palm Sunday Refugee Rally

The palm Sunday rally, the biggest refugee march of the year is coming up on Sunday March 25th 2018. Please join fellow Doctors For Refugees members by marching in support of our refugees -for their right to health care, safety, fair processing and a secure future.

Sydney: Meet Mei at 1:50pm at the Doctors4refugees banner 0412481718
Facebook Event information: click here

Volunteer Coordinator Needed Urgently

We have received several very kind offers of help from members and would love to take them up! However we need desperately someone to assist us with responding to and coordinating these. Please contact us at if you can take this on, even if you are only able to do this for a few months.

Detention Harms Health - Student March for Refugees

On April 7th, the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) will be holding a student march for refugees in protest of Australia’s ongoing policy of mandatory, offshore detention in Manus Island and Nauru. Dr Barri Phatarfod Doctors For Refugees President will be speaking at this event.

Where and when: 12 pm Saturday 7th April; Hyde Park, Sydney

Facebook event information: click here

Doctors For Refugees AGM

To be held on Sunday 8th April

Place: ZOOM conference with phone in option.
Time: 7pm NSW, VIC time.

Please email us at if you wish to partake.

N.B. Nominations for  election  of office-bearers of the association must be received no later than Sunday 1st April 2018. Nominees must be current members and seconded by another current member. Position nominated for and contact details for both nominee & seconder must be included in the application. Nominations can be submitted by email to:  with subject “Attention returning officer” or by snail mail c/o returning officer 482 Old South Head Rd, Rose Bay 2019.
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