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Health Ministers attend annual conference

Health Ministers from Australia and New Zealand are attending their annual conference in Wellington New Zealand.

Issues being discussed include:

>> Electronic health records
>> Safety and quality issues
>> Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and blood supply

The Ministers have decided to seek more information about the possible link between the rare disease, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease and blood," Federal Health Minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge, has announced.

"Ministers received a comprehensive report from a committee of all health department medical officers, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the National Health and Medical Research Council and consumers which canvassed all of the options, including the latest scientific information from around the world about this issue," he said.

"There is no scientific evidence to link vCJD with blood, however, some countries have decided to defer blood donations from people who lived in the UK during 1980-96 - at the height of the so called mad cow disease outbreak - from giving blood until more information is available.

"If Australia was to take this action our blood supply would be severely affected with a loss of around 5 percent of donations. Given the current delicate balance between supply and use, this could have a devastating impact on the availability of blood for lifesaving procedures," Dr Wooldridge said.

Chair of the Australian Health Minister's Conference, South Australian Human Services Minister, Dean Brown, said Australia had to weigh up the theoretical risk of the transmission of vCJD through blood with the very real risk of not having enough blood available in Australia.

"On this basis, Ministers decided to seek more information before making a decision," he said.

Dr Wooldridge said Australia had one of the safest blood supplies in the world with state of the art screening techniques in place.

"The Ministers agreed to await further information from work being undertaken on the impact which donor deferral will have on the Australian blood supply.

"We will also be carefully monitoring scientific research into vCJD and will act swiftly if more information comes to light," Dr Wooldridge said.

More information on vCJD can be obtained on two Fact Sheets available at www.health.gov.au

See also www.australia.org.nz

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