Cross Border Health: Renal Disease

It made the news nationwide when the Northern Territory banned those from adjoining border areas from going onto dialysis in Alice Springs no matter what family and tribal connections to the place they may have. Alice Springs has the largest dialysis unit in the southern Hemisphere.

The catalyst for the publicity and hopefully some action was the case of the famous artist Patrick Tjungurrayi from the Western Australia border community of Kiwirrkurra.

Kiwirrkurra is 200kms west of Kintore and is serviced from Alice Springs. There is no ability to get patients back from Kalgoorlie or Perth to Kiwirrkurra if they are evacuated west instead of east to Alice Springs without transiting through Alice Springs.

Renal patients in the border regions of South and Western Australia had to make the hard decision. Go to Adelaide or Perth far away from family and country or to stay on country and die. But is the wait any less in other capitals? My understanding is there is a wait list of over 40 for access to dialysis in Perth. Would you travel thousands of kilometres from home. To wait. And wait.

The stand by Patrick Tjungurrayi seems to have forced some action. The ABC reports that at the last Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) meeting an agreement on cross-border dialysis was reached. I assume this means South Australia and Western Australia will pay for access. Despite the statement saying an agreement has been reached nothing has been signed. So there will be further delays until money starts flowing, extra facilities built, dialysis machines and staff ready to go.

A few days ago the Northern Territory Government released an extra $120 million to put into the health system.

  • $9.5 million for 95 nurses.
  • $7 million to run Darwin’s new cancer centre
  • $4 million for more staff at Gove Hospital.
  • $5 million Expanded dialysis facilities in Katherine and Tennant Creek
  • I don’t know where the rest is going but I think if they were expanding real services in Alice they would trumpet it as often and as loudly as they could.

    The artists of Papunya Tula many years ago painted their hearts and souls out and and raised $1million dollars auctioning their artworks to set up a dialysis machine in Kintore for people to visit home from Alice Springs. The Kiwirrkurra artists are part of this organisation and many donated paintings for the auction.

    As well as the chair and space in Kintore the “Purple House” in Alice Springs was purchased and the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku (or the Western Desert Dialysis Mob) came into being. Kiwirrkurra people play a large role in this. But if the NT government’s decision stood it would mean they would have no access to it and no way to get home to country and family.

    Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku have received an increase in funding from the Federal government as well as $500 000 from Medicines Australia. This will allow them to kit out a dialysis truck to move into various communities and bring people home in the tri-state border (NT/WA/SA) for visits. It sort of makes a mockery of state borders.

    I look forward to a signed agreement between South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory so dialysis services can be increased in Alice Springs.

    To see the impact of end stage renal disease on remote Indigenous Australians take a look at the Australian Story program on Mandawuy Yunupingu

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    Robbo is a pharmacist working with a very remote Aboriginal Health Service in the deserts of Western Australia. + Andrew Robbo Roberts

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