Q fever treatment ‘discriminating’ rural people

NSW Farmers launch petition to reinstate National Q Fever Management Program

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NSW Farmers vice president Chris Groves and president James Jackson.

NSW Farmers vice president Chris Groves and president James Jackson.

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Producers have to pay $200 to $600 themselves to get the preventative vaccine.

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NSW Labor has pledged $4 million for a Q fever vaccination program supporting people at risk of contracting the bacterial infection. 

In an announcement this week, Opposition Leader Michael Daley promised funding 8000 vaccines for regional NSW and support for the development of a new vaccine. 

It comes after NSW Farmers president James Jackson called on governments to stop discrimination against rural people and provide financial assistance for the preventative Q fever vaccination.  

The agriculture lobby group planned to take their fight to reinstate the National Q Fever Management Program (NQFMP) straight to the House of Representatives after launching a petition earlier in January. 

In NSW towns, like Guyra and Gunnedah, up to 22 per cent of the population show exposure to the disease, but those at risk are forced to pay between $200 and $600 to protect themselves with the Q-VAX vaccine.

In the early 2000s the NQFMP provided free Q fever vaccination to high risk occupations including abattoir workers, contractors and sheep shearers along with producers and family members. 

Funding ceased a few years later but research by Flinders University student Stephanie Hendry found Q fever cases were halved in 2002-2010 as a result of the program. 

NSW Farmers are now calling for the return of a vaccination subsidy and the allocation of funds in the federal budget to support the commercialisation of a new human vaccine by the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory.

The new vaccine has been created by Dr Stephen Graves but another $300,000 is needed to complete animal testing. 

Mr Jackson said rural people were always last in line for assistance. 

“It’s a disgrace that it is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,” he said.

“It’s a clear indication that if this disease was centred around Double Bay there would be a Royal Commission into it but because it’s centred around western NSW, it’s a bit out of their (politicians) eye line."

Both Mr Jackson and NSW Farmers vice president Chris Groves have battled Q fever. 

Mr Jackson contracted the acute form of the disease when he woke up one morning and could hardly get out of bed. 

Later, while in the shower, he collapsed after going into septic shock; falling across the drain hole and almost drowning in the shower. 

NSW Farmers has spent years lobbying state government to fund a Q fever awareness campaign, train GPs and put $200,000 towards the new vaccine research.

They also agreed to a project proposal with the National Health and Medical Research Council to complete clinical trials on vaccinating 10 to 14 year olds. 

Mr Jackson said he was yet to meet a politician who could defend why Q fever treatment wasn’t financially supported.

“This is country vs city,” he said.

“Country people have got to pay for their own health prevention mechanism and things like hepatitis are on the PBS.” 

The Land submitted questions to federal health minister Greg Hunt but he failed to respond by deadline. 

Currently 350 people have signed the petition. 

NSW Farmers senior policy advisor Alexandra Bunton said the group had spent just over two years working with other community and industry groups to make noise about Q Fever and get in the ear of decision makers. 

“Not just politicians but departments of health,” he said.

“It’s one of those issues that everyone in industry is united on.

“The petition is just one tool in the overall tool.” 

The disease had been found in a two-year-old child from a petting farm on the Gold Coast and staff of an art gallery staff who had contracted Q fever from the packing straw. 

Sign the petition before it closes on February 14 by visiting  www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Petitions/House_of_Representatives_Petitions/Petitions_General/Petitions_List?id=EN0815 

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