Report Says Australians Face Rising Threat From Parasites

The Associated Press
February 14, 2002

Canberra, Australia - Australians are increasingly threatened by parasitic diseases such as malaria, and the country's ability to respond to fresh outbreaks is declining, according to a study published Monday.

The report, by lobby group the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies said new parasitic diseases are emerging and old ones are developing resistance to drugs. Malaria, which was eradicated from Australia in the 1960s but infects up to 800 Australian overseas travelers each year, continues to pose a threat, the report said.

Some 267 Australian soldiers serving as peacekeepers in East Timor caught malaria despite extensive use of the anti-malarial drug doxycycline, and many had relapses after treatment, it said.

"As a consequence of global warming, malaria will threaten an increased proportion of the world's population and possibly could become re-established on the Australian mainland," the report said.

The study said drinking water is also vulnerable to parasites. In 1999, about 4 million people in Sydney were told not to drink tap water for more than a week when it was contaminated by parasites.

The paper said Australia's ability to combat these threats is hurt by a lack of resources and the dwindling number of scientists who specialize in parasitic diseases.

"Medical schools in Australia currently train almost no parasitologists," the report said. "[This] reflects the ignorance of university and government administrations and the lack of any policy for maintaining the supply of suitably trained graduates despite a demonstrated need."