Immigration

Pregnant Nauru asylum seeker in critical condition to be flown to Australia: Doctor

Nauru. Source: Getty

A pregnant asylum seeker suffering from a serious condition is reportedly being flown to Australia to receive medical attention, after Doctors for Refugees advised that Nauru medical services cannot sufficiently treat her.

Five independent doctors recently said that a 37-week pregnant Kuwaiti asylum seeker with pre-eclampsia, a condition that if left untreated can lead to serious complications for both mother and baby, needs an emergency caesarean.

They urged that she be brought to Australia to receive proper medical care. 

In a statement, one doctor, who did not provide their name, said: "This is a critical situation now that requires urgent attention."

Doctors for Refugees' Dr Barri Phatarfod told SBS her colleague Dr David Berger, who conducts emergency medical evacuations, told her he had consulted with the Immigration Department's chief medical officer Dr John Brayley regarding having the woman flown to Australia this morning.

Dr Phatarfod said the reported move showed that the government “cannot defy medical expertise”.

Refugee and asylum seeker advocate Ian Rintoul told SBS that he had spoken with the woman and at 1.30pm AEDT she was still at the Republic of Nauru Hospital and her family was unaware about the conversation between Dr Berger and Dr Brayley. 

The Immigration Department had told The Guardian last week that the medical services at the Nauru detention centre and Nauruan government health facilities were "comprehensive".

However, Dr Phatarfod disagreed, saying the Nauru detention centre and other Nauru medical services did not have the ability to treat the woman.

She provided the "recognised serious condition" of pre-eclampsia that the woman was suffering as an example.

When pre-eclampsia occurs in Australia, the woman is brought in as an inpatient for regular monitoring of her blood pressure. She receives blood tests, and the protein levels in her urine are checked once or twice a day.

She may receive blood pressure medications and her fetus is monitored almost around the clock.

"None of these facilities are available on Nauru," Dr Phatarfod said.

Nauruan women with pre-eclampsia are often taken to medical services in Australia, Singapore or Fiji, "because it's well-known that Nauru doesn't have the capacity to deal with high-risk pregnancies".

This helps prevent the more serious eclampsia, which involves seizures and is treated by caesarean.

However women asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru cannot depart for any of these countries.

The Australian government's policy stipulates that refugees and asylum seekers must deliver babies on Nauru.

"[The Kuwaiti woman is] not getting special treatment, she's at a significant disadvantage."

In 2015, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the department had provided $11 million to upgrade the facilities in a Nauru detention centre hospital and $26 million to a Nauruan hospital. 

However, Dr Phatarfod said the medical services had not improved. 

"We only look at what the outcome is. That money has simply has not gone there," she said.

In May last year, Somali refugee Naima was medically evacuated to a Brisbane hospital where she was placed in intensive care after reports she had suffered from pre-eclampsia and had given birth by emergency caesarean.

Dr Phataford said no upgrade to the facilities on Nauru had occurred since.

"They have not been upgraded in the intervening period and any upgrade was done before Naima's situation."

A spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the department did not provide specific details on the health and transfer arrangements of individuals.

"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," they said.

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