Torres Strait Australia-PNG border: Hot spot for Emerging Infectious Diseases

Sunday, 29 July, 2012

In a paper just published online in Environmental International the authors (which includes THS Director, Rick Speare) make the case that the Australia-Papua New Guinea border in Torres Strait is critical for Australia's biosecurity. Entry of emerging infectious diseases is much more likely via this Indo-Papuan conduit than elsewhere in Australia.

Abstract: Australia is free of many diseases, pests and weeds found elsewhere in the world due to its geographical isolation and relatively good health security practices. However, its health security is under increasing pressure due to a number of ecological, climatic, demographic and behavioural changes occurring globally. North Queensland is a high risk area (a health security hot spot) for Australia, due in part to its connection to neighbouring countries via the Torres Strait and the Indo‐Papuan conduit, its high diversity of wildlife reservoirs and its environmental characteristics. Major outbreaks of exotic diseases, pests and weeds in Australia can cost in excess of $1 billion; however, most expenditure on health security is reactive apart from preventive measures undertaken for a few high profile diseases, pests and weeds. Large gains in health security could therefore be made by spending more on pre-emptive approaches to reduce the risk of outbreaks, invasion/spread and establishment, despite these gains being difficult to quantify. Although biosecurity threats may initially have regional impacts (e.g. Hendra virus), a break down in security in health security hot spots can have national and international consequences, as has been seen recently in other regions with the emergence of SARS and pandemic avian influenza. Novel approaches should be driven by building research and management capacity, particularly in the regions where threats arise, a model that is applicable both in Australia and in other regions of the world that value and therefore aim to improve their strategies for maintaining health security.

Murray KA, Skerratt LF, Speare R, Ritchie S, Smout F, Hedlefs R, Lee J. Cooling off health security hot spots: Getting on top of it down under. Environment International 2012;48:56-64.

This genesis of this publication was partly in the David Banks Oration Biosecurity in North Queensland: Challenges and opportunities delivered by Rick Speare at the final Australian Biosecurity CRC Annual Workshop in 2010:Open this presentation(Powerpoint show)