Thursday, April 25, 2024

Greater Dandenong claims funding cut for refugee program puts entire state at risk

City of Greater Dandenong Council Deputy Mayor, Lana Formoso has slammed the Victorian Government’s withdrawal of funding for refugee immunisation monitoring and education, saying the move poses a serious public health risk to the entire state.

In July, the Victorian Government announced it would cease funding for the Program for Refugee Immunisation Monitoring and Education (PRIME) by 31 December.

“This decision now poses a serious public health risk to our state’s population, particularly to refugee and asylum seeker communities in the south east region,” said Cr Formoso.

She said PRIME was a frontline service, delivering lifespan immunisation in local government areas and asylum seeker healthcare and supports catch-up vaccination in primary care.

“Since 2017, PRIME costs Council $602,000 per year to administer.”

“High public immunisation levels are a critical safety net, not just for our refugee and asylum seeker communities, but for our state’s population at large, ensuring that protection from preventable diseases is always maximised,” said Cr Formoso.

The Council established bicultural bilingual teams to respond to local needs and provide an essential public health safety net for the municipality’s refugee and asylum seeker community as part of the program.

Since 2013, the Victorian Government has also provided funds for Council to deliver a place-based immunisation catch-up program at the Noble Park English Language School.

“This program will now also unfortunately cease at the end of this year,” the Deputy Mayor confirmed.

She said the PRIME program had increased vaccination coverage from 24% to 84% in refugee and asylum seeker populations of all ages.

“With PRIME ceasing, it is anticipated that more than 80% of refugees potentially unvaccinated or under-immunised.”

“These circumstances will also result in family Centrelink payments being at risk, and access to early childhood services limited for this cohort due to the ‘No jab, No pay’ and ‘No jab, No play’ legislation.

“Council is concerned that the South East Primary Health Network particularly was not consulted to transition this service to the primary care system, and they mirror our concerns in terms of general practitioner (GP) capability and capacity to effectively administer the refugee and asylum seeker immunisation program.”

Of the 107 GPs Council contacted to establish capacity to take referrals, only 14 have indicated capacity to take a limited number of referrals, none have access to the system incorporating international vaccination records, Deputy Mayor Formoso says.

There is also a lack of culturally appropriate and specialised services available in the primary care system with not enough bilingual nurse immunisers available to effectively support this vulnerable population, she said.

“PRIME will need to refer around 1,600 people back to primary care before the end of 2023 with clear evidence suggesting that primary health does not have the resources available to address this surge in demand.”

“Council has advocated to the Victorian Government to reconsider ceasing the funding for PRIME so that those most at risk of vaccine preventable diseases can stay healthy and safe as existing models of care in Victoria do not achieve adequate immunisation benchmarks for the refugee and asylum seeker communities.”

In the same month that the Government announced that the refugee program would be shelved, Council’s PRIME team was awarded the GSK Immunisation Award at the 2023 Public Health Association of Australia conference.

The Council’s immunisation team (pictured) was nationally recognised for its innovative approach to improving access and coverage for priority populations, receiving the Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) Immunisation Award.

The award was presented by the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia and CEO of GSK Australia and was accompanied by a $20,000 grant.

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