This week’s Health Wrap has been written by my colleague Ellice Mol, another new Sax Institute staff member. Ellice is our new Digital Communications Manager, a dab hand at producing digital content and has also worked in radio, video and film production. We hope you enjoy the Wrap. Send us your ideas via Twitter to @medicalmedia.

By Ellice Mol

Calls for radical rethink on dealing with ice epidemic

With a focus  on health, law enforcement and improving education, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has launched a national task force this week to help tackle the growing and deadly scourge of crystal methamphetamine, ABC news reported.

The Prime Minister said ice was tearing apart communities across the country, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Frontline child services worker Matt Noffs agrees and on the eve of Mr Abbott’s announcement called for a radical rethink about how Australia is dealing with the issue, including hiring chemists to create their own pure form of ice to be administered to addicts in a safe place.

The Australian Crime Commission’s Judy Lind says its latest illicit drug data report paints a grim picture, as reported by Rachel Brown on ABC’s PM program. In its 11th report, the Commission identified crystal methamphetamine or ‘ice’ as the illicit drug posing the highest risk to the Australian community. As well as documenting the health, social and economic harms caused by the drug, the report comprehensively outlines the role of organised crime in producing and distributing ice,  Noffs, who is CEO of the Noffs Foundation, said in a comment piece in Guardian Australia.

Noffs compared the worsening epidemic to the heroin crisis of 20 years ago, saying a national strategy and investment in treatment services is needed to reduce the level of use as much as possible and suggests that safe centres would help beat ice, because they saves lives.

Moree drug activist, Kerry Cassells, welcomed the PM’s new ice taskforce, but called for a separate focus for rural areas, the ABC reported.

On Croakey, UnitingCare ReGen’s CEO Laurence Alvis asks why the Federal Government is reducing the capacity of the Alcohol and Other Drug and Mental Health sectors to inform policy responses and develop targeted, evidence based programs at a time of concern about methamphetamine use. 

In what Opposition health spokesperson Catherine King said was an 11th hour fix, rehabilitation centre staff dealing with patients struggling with drugs such as ice have won a last-minute reprieve from federal government funding cuts after an outcry from health groups, ABC news reported.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore said while the announcement was welcome, the funding for many other health groups remained uncertain.


Mental health receives last minute funding reprieve 

Mental health groups have also been granted a last-minute funding reprieve from the federal government after Health Minister Sussan Ley announced a continuation of nearly $300 million in funding about to expire.

Similar concerns among mental health groups over exactly which organisations would receive the funding were reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, however all welcomed the news.

Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan told the ABC the funding extension was a great relief, both for mental health workers and the people they help.

However, while welcoming the news, he stressed that short-term funding arrangements needed to end. “That sort of uncertainty gives no comfort to people who rely on these services and programs and gives no comfort to the workforce who deliver them.”

In NSW, retired magistrate and former barrister and economist, Jim Coombs writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that treating mentally ill prisoners would save enormous sums. With a newly sworn-in NSW Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, Coombs says now is the time to examine the hundreds of psychotic inmates in NSW jails who are not receiving any mental health treatment.

Meanwhile, Jaelea Skehan, Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, wrote at Croakey about a new document that her organisation has produced which provides a conceptual framework for strategic action to prevent mental ill-health and promote mental health and wellbeing in Australia.

Also on Croakey Georgie Harman, CEO of beyondblue, writes about the recently released findings of an independent evaluation of the Stop. Think. Respect. ‘Invisible Discriminator’ advertising campaign, which showed increased awareness of racial discrimination in people who had seen the ads.

The campaign prompted the target audience of non-Indigenous people aged 25-44 to reassess their behaviour. People are now far more likely to want to set a good example for others and intervene if they witness an act of racial discrimination.

Hartman said beyondblue will be continuing its participation in the Close the Gap campaign steering committee, and advocating for mental health and suicide prevention measures that work to close the mental health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people.


Should we do battle with anti-vaccination activists?

Don’t feed the trolls. It’s advice always better heeded than not, but one of Australia’s immunisation experts says it is particularly important when it comes to vaccine deniers, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

University of Sydney Associate Professor Julie Leask says the trend towards collective moral outrage about people who don’t vaccinate their children risks making the problem worse. About 3 per cent of children are not up-to-date with vaccines because parents have safety concerns. “Calling them things like ‘baby killers’ does nothing for this issue, and I think it further polarises people,” she said. “I don’t see any good evidence that just shouting down opponents actually works”.

Writing in the journal Public Health Research & Practice, Professor Leask says it’s unrealistic for us to spend our time and energy trying to rid the world of the hard-line 1 or 2 per cent.

“As long as vaccination has existed, there have been such activists, just as there will always be a minority who stand outside the mainstream, reject orthodox medicine and its interventions, mistrust government and value natural health,” she wrote.

But alarming new data obtained by The Advertiser from the federal Department of Health reveals the number of children whose parents are registering as conscientious objectors to childhood vaccinations has doubled since 2006.

“The significant growth in the number of children who are not vaccinated because their parents have a ‘conscientious objection’ to it is shocking and the government has to put an immediate stop to this increase” Executive Director of The Parenthood, Jo Briskey told The Advertiser.

In a blog piece on The Drum Katie Atwell, lecturer with the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University, says she learnt that some people are afraid; some are making risk-benefit analyses, and a small number are deciding not to vaccinate. Attempts to correct the misinformation to which they may be exposed can be ineffective or even outright dangerous, as those seeking to correct myths may counter-intuitively reinforce them.


Chaotic Indigenous funding strategy 

The Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) has sparked outrage in the Indigenous services sector after numerous organisations were knocked back or offered reduced funding for expanded services. The release of a list of successful recipients last week did little to ease tension because it revealed they included government departments and sporting organisations, Guardian Australia reported.

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, told ABC radio in Darwin the process was not chaotic or confusing, and said those descriptors were “themes” of protest. He said only “a few people” were unhappy about the IAS results.

Last week Scullion met protesters in Alice Springs and engaged in heated debate with people unhappy about how funding was distributed.

The IAS consolidated more than 150 Indigenous government programs and policies into five broad categories. The funding – reduced by more than $500m in the last federal budget – was then reallocated through the grant scheme.

In the days following the announcement of $860m in grant offers, Guardian Australia spoke to numerous organisations that had been denied funding for programs, or had been offered a grant smaller than their previous budget in return for expanded programs. Others were unaware of their application status beyond a phone call saying they had or had not been successful.

Meanwhile, The West Australian reports the Aboriginal Health Council WA, representing 21 health services around the State, plans to coordinate a public advertising campaign opposing community closures, targeting Colin Barnett’s Cottesloe electorate and regional centres including Port Hedland, Karratha, Carnarvon and Kalgoorlie.


Sweat to live longer, Monday morning anger and walking off the Easter eggs

For years authorities have been so focused on just getting us up and moving that they have paid less attention to the type of movement we do, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

But data from more than 200,000 Australians, in the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up study, has proven moderate exercise such as long walks isn’t enough if we want best to protect ourselves from death and decline.

The research team wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine: “Because vigorous activity is more time efficient in achieving health benefits than moderate activity, promoting vigorous activity might be particularly fruitful for those for whom insufficient time is a major barrier.”

The risk of having a heart attack has been found to be 8.5 times higher than usual in the two hours following an intense period of anger, new research reported in the Canberra Times warns.

Sydney researchers published a paper in the European Heart Journal which suggests the increased risk following intense anger or anxiety is most likely due to increase heart rate, blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels and increased clotting. Combined with earlier research which has shown Monday is the highest risk day for heart attacks, the article suggests avoiding getting irate on a Monday.

To walk off the kilojoules in one 80 gram hot cross bun, you will need to take about 8200 steps, according to this Health Check piece on The Conversation titled “The good and bad of Easter eggs, chocolate and hot cross buns”. The author’s review of the health impact of chocolate and even fresh egg consumption isn’t that great either.

You can read previous Health Wraps here.

Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:


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