AN INDEPENDENT body to monitor the health of asylum seekers in detention must urgently be established, according to the nation's doctors.
The call from the Australian Medical Association follows the first interview with an asylum seeker on Nauru last week, who told The Age an Iranian man had attempted to hang himself at the detention centre.
The detainee who made the suicide claim — which has been denied by the Immigration Department — said it was only through the intervention of asylum seekers and officials that the man did not die. The Iranian man was later placed under medical watch.
Writing today in the online journal MJA InSight, AMA federal president Steve Hambleton said no independent body existed to systematically monitor health and mental health services in detention centres.
He said now was an ideal opportunity to establish such an independent body, as the federal government transitions between the disbanded Detention Health Advisory Group and its replacement, the Immigration Health Advisory Group.
According to the World Health Organisation, Papua New Guinea is the highest-risk country in the western Pacific region for malaria. Manus Island — where the government proposes to send asylum seekers — has the highest number of probable and confirmed malaria cases in PNG.
"They are also at risk of dengue fever in those locations and being in a hot, wet location, there are other risks such as dehydration, clean water supply and heat stress," he said.
"On top of that you have a distressed population. Some have been subjected to torture, some have been separated from their family."
He said dental health, TB and vaccination programs also needed to be monitored. He said members of the independent panel should be drawn from the medical, psychology, dental and nursing professions, and include specialists in public health and child health.
Former Australian of the Year and psychiatrist Patrick McGorry backed the plan.
"They don't have the highly specialised expertise required for such traumatised people," Professor McGorry said. "I really think it's deeply flawed, the mental health side of it anyway. I don't think we have independent scrutiny."
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said there was already an advisory group that dealt with such matters. He said the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention also advised the minister, a panel led by refugee advocate Paris Aristotle.
"Just because they don't report to government doesn't mean they aren't independent. They are experts in their field and the government wants full and frank advice on the best way to deal with health issues that we face," the spokesman said.