Sick Manus Island refugees not given interpreters

7:04 pm on 13 August 2018

Refugees receiving medical treatment in Papua New Guinea are no longer provided with interpreters, a Kurdish refugee says.

Despite a promise that interpreters would be available, the English speaking Kurd said he had to volunteer to help patients and doctors communicate.

The 98th daily protest in the centre, 6-11-17.

The 98th daily protest in the centre, 6-11-17. Photo: supplied

Following last year's eviction from the detention centre on Manus Island, interpretation services were withdrawn from about 600 men exiled there by Australia.

Serious inadequacies and systematic failures with the men's healthcare have since been highlighted by the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Queensland Coroner.

Kurdish asylum seeker Benham Satah has been translating for refugees in Port Moresby's Pacific International Hospital.

He said a promise to provide interpreters by telephone had not been fulfilled.

"This is a problem because the men are giving consent to procedures they don't understand," Mr Satah said.

"PNG Immigration put up a notice and promised telephone interpreters in Manus and also Port Moresby. Why don't we have them when we get sick?"

A refugee waiting for over a year for a hernia operation was given the wrong medication because of miscommunication, Mr Satah said.

"They apologised and said it was the wrong medicine. He was shivering for one whole night until morning," he said.

"With all the money that is being used for these contracts, providing interpreters shouldn't be hard for them but they are not doing it and people suffer."

Benham Satah.

Benham Satah. Photo: ABC: Eric Tlozek

The prevalence of mental health issues prevented many refugees from attending English lessons, previously available during their five year exile, the refugee said, meaning they often did not understand how to take medicines they were prescribed.

"They are not familiar with medical terms. It makes it very hard because there are forms that they need to sign," Mr Satah said.

"When the doctor gives you some medicine that you need to take in your room, you don't know how to use it. All these issues makes it hard for everyone."

Paddy McLisky

Paddy McLisky Photo: Doctors for Refugees

General practitioner and secretary of Doctors for Refugees Paddy McLisky said refugees receiving treatment needed to be made aware of the risks.

"Informed consent is extremely important in medicine. Whenever any doctor prescribes medication to a patient or performs a surgical procedure there is always a risk, no matter how small that risk, of the patient coming to harm.

"It's terribly important that they understand the rationale for being on that medication or having that procedure and also the risks involved."

Telephone interpreters could be found in Australia, Dr McLisky said.

"I understand that in some cases interpreters haven't been provided. Certainly on Nauru, there may have been interpreters at times who haven't been utilised.

"If the interpreter is on the phone and there's a good clear phone line, and the interpreter is able to speak the language adequately then I think this is an adequate service."

The PNG Immigration Authority and Pacific International Hospital were contacted for comment.

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