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 AMA welcomes transfer of sick children from Nauru

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone has welcomed the transfer of 11 refugee children from Nauru to Australia but says all asylum seeker children on the Pacific island should be relocated.

The 11 children were moved for medical reasons on Monday, October 22, with some suffering what is termed withdrawal syndrome, refusing to engage with others and even rejecting food and fluids

Nine adults were transferred along with the children. Another 52 children remain on Nauru, comprising part of the total 652 asylum seekers on the island.

“We’re clear on our position. We want the children and their families off the island with appropriate medical attention,” Dr Bartone told ABC News.

“We’ve called for an independent panel to assure in the oversight of both the facilities and the transfer, and as long as all of those needs are met, we’re very, very clear in our support for getting those children off the island.”

Dr Bartone said news of the 11 children being relocated was a welcome development, but that it goes to the heart of the problem.

“We’ve been calling for a long period of time for the removal of these children to the Australian mainland or to other appropriate health facilities to ensure their adequate wellbeing,” he said.

“We’ve heard the stories. We’re aware of the enormous mental health issues, the stress, the vulnerability behind that. Other urgent physical medical conditions…  this is now obviously making an enormous impact on their health and wellbeing.”

Dr Bartone said the children were enduring “everything from attempts at their own life, significant fluid and food refusal for long periods of time, with electrolyte disturbances, which obviously can impact on heart rhythm, complete withdrawal, lack of communication.”

And he described the signs of withdrawal syndrome as being what the name suggests.

“Basically, completely withdrawing from their immediate environment, from their emotional environment. Lack of communication, lack of engagement, lack of actually responding,” Dr Bartone said.

“It is actually quite uncommon in this part of the world. There have been reports in other parts of the world, in the Northern Hemisphere. But clearly, regardless of the specifics of it, it is unacceptable, and it’s putting them at risk.

“The doctors on the island have been doing a sterling job, often volunteers in this space. But obviously, when you have an overlying principle of five years without a prospect of resettlement, with all of the other mental anguish and vulnerability and trauma that goes into an already damaged and traumatically exposed population, you can’t expect that the health and wellbeing will be allowed to come to the fore.”