Nauru + 2 more

Refugee on Nauru claims medical treatment for severe heart problems delayed without reason

News and Press Release
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By Katherine Gregory

A refugee in Nauru has told the ABC he has been unable to receive much-needed medical treatment on the island.

Key points:

  • Refugee named Yusuf who has been experiencing severe heart problems says he was told he'd go to PNG for treatment

  • Yusuf signed official paperwork and gave consent but was never transferred

  • The Australian Government defers responsibility to Nauruan Government

The man, who is in his 30s, has been experiencing severe heart problems for over a month and was told he would be transferred to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea for treatment.

The man is using the pseudonym Yusuf and said through an interpreter he has often been too sick to get up from his bed.

"Right now I am not feeling very good. I have some pain in my chest but mainly I have a little dizziness, and constant sweating. My body is sweating," Yusuf said.

The ABC has obtained a copy of Yusuf's medical records. They were made at the Ron Hospital in Nauru.

They have been read by an Australian cardiologist and show he is suffering from acute coronary syndrome and bradycardia, which reduces blood flow to the heart and can indicate a heart attack.

"The doctor said we sent your angiogram and reports but whatever happens with your treatment, we are not equipped here to treat you but you can continue with the medication we gave you," Yusuf said.

Yusuf said doctors told him on November 23 and again on December 1 he would be transferred to PNG for treatment, but he has since not heard anything more about it.

He said he also gave his consent to International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) for a medical transfer.

"On the 23rd of November they created paper work called travel documents for me for PNG and they made me sign it and I did sign them and the agreement and consent, but they never sent me," Yusuf said.

Doctor says man should be monitored closely

Dr Clare Arnott, a consultant cardiologist who has worked with asylum seekers, has also seen Yusuf's records.

"They thought he had severe bradycardia, so a very slow heart rate, and that they thought he was likely to be suffering from acute coronary syndrome, which essentially means someone that has had a heart attack or someone who is having a threat of a heart attack," Dr Arnott said.

She said at the very least Yusuf should be hospitalised and monitored much more closely, which he said is not happening.

"My understanding that based on those things, they recommended that he needed specialist care and he had been referred to IHMS. I know he was put on aspirin and Simvastatin, a treatment for someone you'd be concerned has coronary disease," Dr Arnott said.

But the Australian Government is deferring responsibility for the man's health to the Nauruan Government.

An advocate said the Government has also just downgraded the seriousness of Yusuf's condition.

Determining the need for transfer

A statement from a Department of Immigration spokesperson said refugees requiring medical treatment can be transferred to Port Moresby or Australia for treatment.

"Refugees are eligible to access the Government of Nauru Overseas Medical Referral process if required medical services are not available in Nauru. This process is under the management of the Government of Nauru."

"Decisions about medical transfers are made on a case by case basis according to clinical need, in consultation with the contracted health services provider and the Government of Nauru." But advocates and some human rights lawyers are concerned that the lack of clarity around which country is responsible for refugees in Nauru has created a dangerous and convoluted process of approving medical transfers.

"It delays important treatment that people need. We've seen this time and time again over the last three years, whenever things go wrong, the Australian Government likes to point the finger at PNG and Nauru," Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre said.

Mr Webb said the Australian Government still has a legal and moral responsibility for the refugees

"That's the case under international law. The United Nations has said so repeatedly. And it's also been held by Australian courts to be the case under Australian domestic law as well," Mr Webb said.

"The Australian Government sent people to Nauru, the Australian Government built the fences they've been trapped behind, the Australian Government contracts directly with the service providers, the Australian Government signs the cheques."

Australian Broadcasting Corporation