Aussies get $185m injection to fight bird flu

Australians will be reassured by a government boost of $185 million to improve the country's ability to deal with major health emergencies.

The multi-million dollar spend will stretch over five years and will enhance the ability to deal with anything from bird flu to bioterrorism.

The stockpile of bird flu antiviral medicine will be increased to cover 28 per cent of the population under a plan to prepare for a potential pandemic.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has also unveiled a new office of health protection to co-ordinate the national response to all health emergencies.

The office will be responsible for strengthening disease surveillance systems and developing national health security legislation.

The funding comes at a time when Australian doctors are calling for mandatory disaster management training for healthcare workers to deal with a potential terrorist attack.

Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld from The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, in a report says that most hospitals are not able to cope with more than 24 seriously injured patients at any one time and there should be mandatory disaster training for all healthcare workers, including medical students and student nurses.

Rosenfeld says that preparation for a major event includes training staff in major incident management, setting up an operational/control unit, nominating key personnel, ensuring an efficient intra-hospital communication system, and enhancing links with other emergency services and hospitals.

He says doctors and nurses who would be receiving and treating victims of terrorist attacks must be up to date with their knowledge of the types of injuries and treatments required after bomb blasts.

Abbott says the package includes $80 million to buy antivirals and antibiotics, including Tamiflu and Relenza, for the national medical stockpile, and says the threat of a pandemic is real, and will remain a possibility in the next few years.

Professor Rosenfel's report is published in the current issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

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