Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

'No Longer Needed' - MSF Doctors Need to be Brought back to Nauru

'No Longer Needed' - MSF Doctors Need to be Brought back to Nauru

Laura Francis

Year 8, Loreto Normanhurst

It should be illegal to prevent doctors helping the ill, especially when studies show that these people are in desperate need of help. Millions of refugees suffer from mental illness due to traumatic experiences and harsh policies put into place. So why would Nauru's government force MSF doctors to leave? We must provide refugees with the required treatment if they are to have a future. 

As a consequence of the unjust Australian policy of offshore-processing, asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat are sent to islands for an indefinite time period. Dr Schmid, an MSF psychiatrist who was dealing with the catastrophic mental health of Nauruan refugees, said, “the issue of 'indefiniteness' is there is no timeframe for the detention process. Patients tell me even prisoners have a sentence - they know when they'll be released. My patients don't have that, so they fear for their future” (2018). Many refugees have now spent more than 5 years on Nauru with dangerous effects on their mental health. Since November 2017, under an agreement with Nauru's Ministry of Health, MSF had been providing free and much-needed psychological and psychiatric treatment to over 285 refugee and asylum seekers that were there due to this policy. In 11 months of service, they provided 285 initial health assessments and 1,874 follow-up sessions, implementing essential care. For a charity run organisation, this was an amazing effort to deplete mental health issues on Narau.

On October the 5th 2018, the Nauruan government claimed MSF services were “no longer needed” (Scotty, 2018) and forced them to leave within 24 hours. They falsely stated they could do the job themselves and later accused MSF of harbouring a political agenda against the off-shore processing policy. By doing this, the Nauruan government is only exposing the lack of empathy it has towards refugees. 

On December the 3rd 2018, MSF released the 'indefinite despair' report which was a summary of their findings. This report provided insights on the type of people found on Narau and the severity of mental illness. “Of the 285 patients, 157 were women and 128 were men, with ages ranging from 1-74, 19% under the age of 18” (MSF, 2018). 60% had suicidal thoughts and 30% even attempted suicide, some as young as 9. These statistics show how bad the situation on Nauru is, establishing the need for doctors. 

Unfortunately, confronting events are the main ways refugees are heard. During a visit from the media in 2016, a man set himself on fire and died due to desperate circumstances on Nauru. Protests need to be made, demanding that Australia removes its refugee policies. In the meantime, people must ensure refugees receive the required help.

Severity of mental illness can be rated using the GAF scale, which measures 1 for the lowest and 100 for the highest with scores around 70 considered healthy. For Nauruan patients, the median GAF score at initial assessment was 40! In comparison, other MSF projects considered severe, rate a median of 60. From this report, MSF concluded that the mental health at Nauru was among the worst they'd ever seen including projects for victims of extreme torture. This shows the severity of the issue and the refugees extreme need for help.

So why would the Nauruan government banish MSF, knowing the situation at hand? Currently, the Australian government will not lift the offshore processing policy. Therefore, MSF doctors must be granted permission to enter Nauru and continue their services. This way when refugees and asylum seekers are finally granted their visas, they can find the happiness they fled their homes to seek.