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Australia and NZ pose a TB threat for migrants


Media embargo – 11 April 2008

Australia and New Zealand pose a TB threat for migrants

Migrants are more likely to develop active tuberculosis (TB) in Australia and New Zealand than to be the source of infection for locals.

This was a finding of a study published in the April issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, led by anthropologist Dr Judith Littleton from the University of Auckland.

The study reviewed international data on TB rates, causes and transmissions among migrant populations.

“An analysis of newspaper reporting showed that particular migrant groups, such as foreign students and asylum seekers, were implicated as the ‘cause’ of the TB ‘problem’ in New Zealand,” Dr Littleton said.

“In reality, the picture for Western countries, including New Zealand, is that a relatively small number of people travel across borders with active disease.”

Dr Littleton said that while effective border control was essential, it was just as important to identify the circumstances that promote active tuberculosis in migrant communities.

These include racial discrimination, language barriers, lack of social support and unemployment, all of which were identified by community research as contributing to tuberculosis disease.

“Portrayals by the media and politicians of immigrants as the ‘diseased other’ who need to be stopped at the borders lest they infect locals are not only inaccurate but also ineffective and counterproductive,” Dr Littleton said.

“It is crucial to focus on the living conditions, life chances and access to affordable and appropriate health care and TB services for those people who, because of their life history, have been exposed to active TB in the past and who struggle in their present circumstances.”


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