28 May 2018
Taskforce will study ways to combat deadly virus endemic in several central Australian communities
Doctors and Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations working on the frontline against HTLV-1 have “cautiously” welcomed the federal government’s decision on Friday to set up an $8m taskforce to combat the deadly virus.
Earlier this month Guardian Australia revealed HTLV-1 is endemic in several central Australian Aboriginal communities, which have the world’s highest rates of the fatal, human immune virus for which there is no cure and no treatment.
The $8m taskforce announced on Friday will be led by the commonwealth’s chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy. It will bring together Aboriginal communities, relevant health providers, researchers, clinicians and all levels of government “to look at HTLV-1 and other emerging communicable diseases in remote communities”, said the health minister, Greg Hunt.
Dr Lloyd Einsiedel is an infectious diseases clinician with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute based at Alice Springs hospital, and has been working to raise awareness of HTLV-1.
Einsiedel said he was pleased the government had acted so quickly and he was looking forward to seeing who will be appointed to do this crucial work.
Guardian Australia understands the taskforce will particularly focus on partnering internationally to improve a global understanding of the virus.
As Guardian Australia first reported last month, researchers in Japan are conducting clinical trials of a potential vaccine, and the UK has a national centre to treat the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people there living with HTLV-1.
Clinicians in both countries expressed alarm at the high rates of the virus in central Australia.
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