Comment: The short-lived feminism of Tony Abbott

By Rob Brooks, University of New South Wales

Having watched Christopher Pyne’s sexist treatment of Kate Ellis on Q&A on Monday (see Ben Pobjie’s excellent analysis), I couldn’t decide whether to watch Abbott or Pyne as the Prime Minister handed them their medicine.


This wasn’t quite Cicero denouncing Catiline in the senate. Not least because of the pathetic sordidness of the Peter Slipper affair. And commentators who followed the full day’s incendiary proceedings have a less glowing assessment of the speech’s impact than those of us who saw only the speech itself.

But what excited me, and no doubt animated the video’s viral spread, is the way in which the Prime Minister stood up to Tony Abbott’s aggressive, bullying political style.

Much has been made of Abbott’s so-called “problem with women”. I have no knowledge of how he personally relates to women. But with the way in which he has conducted himself as opposition leader, he has earned the public perception that he has a problem with women, especially women in authority.

He wields his robust aggression so effectively in trying to dislodge and disrupt the government. But now that it is harming his standing with voters, he’s suddenly attempted to remake himself as a feminist. Last week Abbott’s wife, Margie, stepped up to rebut the idea he’s on “some kind of anti-women crusade”. She even went so far as to call him a feminist.

Yesterday, when he got the chance he has been begging for, to move that Peter Slipper be removed as speaker, he made his case on the basis of Slipper’s gross sexism. Suddenly, when the polls start telling him that his perceived sexism is costing him votes, Abbott reveals that he’s a feminist. The last time I was so surprised at a coming-out was when the Insane Clown Posse announced they were actually evangelical Christians.

Abbott’s is the kind of clumsy “re-branding” that only a PR zombie who has never actually met a real voter could have dreamed up. Nobody builds feminist cred overnight. Having a wife and three daughters doesn’t confer it. Especially when Abbott admits to having told his daughters that their virginity is “the most precious gift” they could give someone.

Perhaps, as some regular readers of this column like to point out, I read too much sex, gender and reproduction into modern affairs. Perhaps I should stick to thinking about sexual conflict in other animals.

But then I look at politicians like Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi here in Australia, and Todd Akin and Paul Ryan in the USA, and I cannot help but see the narrow reproductive self-interest that permeates so much of their politics.

If you talk and behave like a man who has never given a moment’s thought to what it is like to live as a woman, then the best you can hope for is to represent other men who have given just as little thought to what life is like for their daughters and wives (should they be so lucky).

And if you speak and think like someone who has never considered what it is like to be gay, then don’t act surprised when gay people actively oppose your re-election.

And if, like Alan Jones, you make your considerable living giving a life-like rendition of a bully who exploits their listener’s self-interest, then don’t whinge about cyber-bullying when the public push back at you.

I grow ever more convinced – although I don’t have the evidence for this yet – that women and men each inherit a kind of gendered myopia that makes it difficult to empathise completely with members of the opposite sex. Which makes it genuinely difficult for us to truly understand one another. Abbott, Jones and the like have built their careers catering to men who’ve spent their lives not thinking deeply about the lives their daughters and wives lead, or would like to lead.

If Tony Abbott wants to undo his damaged reputation with women, he needs to start in the right place. Simply calling yourself a feminist will only lead to more trouble.

Which is one of the reasons I so enjoyed the Prime Minister’s speech. She called Abbott on his rank hypocrisy in trying to paint himself as a feminist when it suddenly became expedient to do so. And, as Anthony Sharwood put it at The Punch – Tony Abbott “got owned”.

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Stingers reach world water polo final

Australia’s women’s water polo team has earned a shot at a first world title since 1986 after beating Russia to reach the final in Barcelona.


The Stingers won 9-6 on Wednesday to set up a showdown with hosts Spain in Friday’s decider.

Australia, bronze medallists at the London Olympics, reached only their third world championships final and first since 2007.

They will attempt to add a second crown after winning the inaugural world championships in Madrid 17 years ago.

Despite a slow start, the Stingers assumed control in the second term to lead 4-3 at halftime and never looked back as they thwarted Russia’s counter-attack.

Nicola Zagame scored three goals in the win, which evoked memories of Australia’s 2007 semi-final triumph over Russia in Melbourne en-route to a silver medal finish behind the US.

Proud Australian coach Greg McFadden was excited by the challenge of facing Spain in the final.

“We are in the gold medal match now and it’s been a great journey and it would be awesome to beat Spain in front of their home crowd as it will be a tremendous atmosphere,” McFadden said.

Stingers star Ashleigh Southern said Wednesday’s win helped overcome the disappointment of missing last year’s Olympic final after an extra-time semi-final loss to eventual champions the US.

“It’s an amazing feeling being in the final. We really wanted to come out here and play for the world championship,” she said.

Olympic silver medallists Spain won a see-sawing encounter against Hungary 13-12, with the winning two goals coming from Laura Lopez in the final quarter.

The hosts had already achieved their best world championships result, having never finished higher than seventh.

Australia’s men’s team lost in the quarter-finals, falling in a heartbreaking extra-time defeat to Olympic champions Croatia on Tuesday.

The politics of ‘orphans’ and the dirty tactics of the adoption lobby

By Patricia Fronek, Griffith University

You might not have realised it, but it is Adoption Awareness Week.


Every year at this time lobbyists pull out the big gun – the celebrity card – and Deborra-Lee Furness hits the airwaves.

The messages are clear – we must rescue more orphans, cut red tape, privatise adoption like in the US, and anyone who opposes us, especially the government, is anti-adoption. The reality is the informed members of the adoption community (and there are many) understand intercountry adoption for what it is – a very complex matter.

Everyone has a right to an opinion but when a small, well-connected and media-savvy group of lobbyists claim personal opinion as fact and claim to be the voice for the adoption community in Australia, there is a problem. My PhD research shed light on the tactics used by lobbyists in Australia – keep the message simple and emotional.

“There are millions of orphans in the world that need to be saved” fits that bill. It sounds a lot better than “a single mother is encouraged by an adoption agency to send her child overseas for adoption and then when she changes her mind and returns the next day, she is told it is too late” or “the family who does not understand what intercountry adoption really means and thinks their child is leaving to go to school” or “some children adopted into Australia have been trafficked”.

In many countries as many as 4 out of 5 children living in orphanages have living parents. US Navy

The other tactic, first used in the US, is to create an enemy; that way there is someone to fight and it keeps the emotions all churned up. This is where the “anti-adoption culture” tag comes in handy. “Anti-adoption” was readily taken on board by the politicians involved in the 2005 Inquiry into Overseas Adoption, while other voices were shut down.

The trouble is the more we hear opinion spoken as fact and don’t hear about the research on intercountry adoption, the more dangerous it becomes.

Where is the evidence? Why don’t we ever hear about the research from overseas that tells us what is really happening in sending countries of children and the voices of those affected – those who lose their children much like the Australian mothers to whom we are now apologising. Why don’t we hear about the research happening in this country? Adopted children are other people’s children. Even after children have been adopted they will always have two families even if they don’t know who their mothers, fathers and first families are. Maybe, just maybe, there are more options than the two we are presented with: life in an orphanage or adoption. Do we lobby governments to improve the conditions of families where adoption occurs? It would cost a lot less.

At this point, I feel I have to say I am not “anti-adoption”. I have spent many years assessing prospective parents here in Australia and can honestly say our adoptive families are good parents and do their best for the children they adopt and love them as their own. Adoption does have a place, but when we focus only on Australia we only see the parents who want to adopt a child. We do not see what happens overseas and we believe the hype. It is the pressure we put on overseas countries to allow intercountry adoption that create opportunities for bad practice and at worst, trafficking.

So what does the research say? Most adopted children are not orphans – they have families. The stories of many mothers are so similar to those of Australian mothers several decades ago, you wouldn’t know the difference by reading them. Orphanages are often created to feed the adoption industry – conflicts of interest abound. Children are often placed into orphanages temporarily during hard times for families, much as they once were in Australia if dad was widowed and had to go to work. Reports of parents coming to get their children (sometimes after saving up to pay the fine) only to find them adopted overseas are many. Of course every country is different and there are different circumstances affecting families, but sadly the threads are all too common.

Unfortunately, intercountry adoption research does not dig up simple messages, does not appeal to the emotions as children in need of rescue do. In fact, there is a lot of grey.

Opinion is much more exciting than evidence. For a long time, adoption scholars here and overseas have talked about what could be done for families and children in trouble overseas. The issue doesn’t start with a child in an adoption agency – the problems start before that.

It is about inequality and disadvantage – let’s build a school, let’s educate women, let’s work towards a basic system of support for widows, let’s trace the children’s families. These steps should come first.

According the The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, adopting children from foreign countries is a last resort. Yet all our resources are poured into responding to the claims of lobbyists. While we do this, we are failing to provide adequate post-adoption services for the children and adults we have adopted. If we’re going to have a discussion of adoption this week, let’s get the facts right.

Patricia Fronek is a member of the National InterCountry Adoption Advisory Group (NICAAG) for the Australian Attorney-General’s Department

Aust MotoGP organisers chase Casey Stoner

Australian MotoGP organisers are pursuing retired two-wheel ace Casey Stoner in the hope he’ll return to Phillip Island for this year’s event.


The 27-year-old quit the sport last November but will jump back on a bike this week for a two-day test in Japan with his former MotoGP team Honda.

He is slated for another two sessions in August to ride a prototype of Honda’s 2014 model.

Stoner admitted he missed the thrill of competing on two wheels in announcing the brief comeback, having struggled to stamp his mark on four in the V8 Supercars’ second-tier category.

The move fuelled speculation the two-time MotoGP world champion could make a dramatic comeback to the sport – a prospect that has the Australian Grand Prix Corporation excited.

“Honda had three bikes in their garage last year with (Andrea) Dovizioso – this year Casey might be that third rider,” chief executive Andrew Westacott told AAP.

“I’d love him to be there (at Phillip Island) and if he can make it down, we’d throw out the welcome mat.

“Now that he’s back on the bike from a Honda point of view, we’ll always look to have him down there – in the same way we’ve always extended the invitation to any of our previous legends.

“We’ll have some conversations over the next three months now that there’s a little bit more of a plan when it comes to Honda’s involvement.”

The October 18-20 event has been billed as the `New Era’, with the absence of Stoner – who has won the past six races – opening the door for a new victor for the first time since 2006.

But Westacott conceded it had been harder to promote this year’s event and match the hype around Stoner’s final race at home in 2012.

“Nothing can compare with last year. It was just one of those unbelievable Australian sporting moments,” he said.

“The one-off interest last year was great for the ongoing awareness of the event and ticket sales but it is a little bit more difficult (in 2013) because what we’ve got to do is promote how open the season is rather than having a hero.”

Regardless, Westacott said ticket sales had so far been on par with events held in 2011 and 2010.

“It’s realistic that we’ve got sales more aligned to the 90-100,000 people who come along to MotoGP across three days rather than around 125,000 who came because they wanted to see an end of a sporting icon’s career,” he said.

“In every sport we go through eras – whether it be motorsport, tennis, golf … and now we’re moving onto a new one (in MotoGP).”

Who should pay for flood damage?

Flooding in Australia’s eastern states has seen more than 24,000 insurance claims lodged so far, with estimates that total costs will run higher than $200 million.


Queensland is bearing the brunt of the clean-up bill, with costs in excess of $187 million.

Obvious comparisons have been made to the 2010/11 Brisbane floods, however those costs exceeded $2.4 billion.

The resounding similarity is the criticism leveled at insurance companies over adequately and accurately covering their clients while offering market-driven premiums, amid rising costs linked to flood coverage.

A new survey from consumer advocate Choice has reported that 60 per cent of people have seen an increase in insurance premiums almost always connected to flood costs.

“Consumers are seeing their premiums double, triple and in some instances increase five-fold with often inappropriate justification from the major insurers as to why,” CEO of Choice, Alan Kirkland said.

“One minute major insurers have been telling consumers the price rises are necessary due to the large payouts from the 2011 floods, while the next they are saying the rises are because a property has been specifically checked out and identified as being in a high-risk flood zone.”

He said that consumers being priced out of the market is a major reason for under-coverage.

“Our major concern is that some consumers are forgoing household insurance altogether because they simply cannot afford the new premiums.”

CHOICE’s research shows that major insurers are also using inconsistent techniques to assess flood risk, including Google Maps and “secret” assessments that they will not reveal to homeowners, local government or the National Flood Risk Information Portal.

The explosion in premium prices also saw a 35 per cent increase in general insurance disputes lodged with the Financial Ombudsmen Service in 2011-2012.

Some insurance companies were state-owned, like the precursor of SunCorp, were privatised in the 80s.

Justin Malbon from the Monash University faculty of Law says that it’s a public policy question over whether homeowners should be subject to insurance industry market forces or a return to tax-funded government disaster coverage.

He also said that revisions to the Insurance Contracts Act since the 2010/11 floods have gone some way to properly define “flood damage” and “storm damage”.

“The terminology in a lot of policies was very unclear in their definition of what a flood was, it was extremely confusing, and for consumers it was hard for them to know and to some extent insurance companies were relying on the confusion to get out of paying up.”

Insurance Council of Australia CEO Rob Whelan said earlier this week that some of the recent flood damage could have been avoided if the state and local governments had done more.

“$40 million is good but it needs way more than that,” he told ABC’s Lateline program on Tuesday.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman doesn’t have a problem with a debate about what more could be done for flood mitigation, but questioned the appropriateness of the timing of Mr Whelan’s comments.

He said a statewide flood mitigation program is underway, where local government chips in $20m and the state $40m.

“We’re getting on with it. Would we like to put more money in? Yes.”

Investors were not spooked at the underwriting responsibilities of the major insurance companies, with Insurance Group Australia (IAG) jumping six cents to $4.99 and QBE Insurance climbing 47 cents today.

Although the Brisbane-based Suncorp, owner of AAMI and GIO and set to be the worst affected of the major insurance companies, has already fielded about 4000 claims for flood and storm damage and their share price dropping a few cents in response.

Cord blood ‘may prevent type 1 diabetes’

In a world-first clinical study, Australian researchers are hoping to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by using stem cells from the patient’s own umbilical cord blood.


They hope that injecting unique immune cells back into the patient, the disease could be avoided entirely.

“A number of animal studies have shown that infusion of regulatory T-cells from cord blood actually does prevent type 1 diabetes,” says Associate Professor Maria Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s hospital.

“So there’s a very strong scientific basis for undertaking the study.”

But researchers say to reap the benefits of cord blood, parents have to make the decision to have it stored.

Currently in Australia there are around 25,000 samples stored. Researchers hope that successful results in this trial will help increase awareness of storing cord blood.

“Australia has one of the lowest rates of cord blood collection in the world really, in the developed world,” says Cell Care’s medical director, Associate Professor Mark Kirkland.

“Certainly for people with a family history of diseases such as diabetes, I think it’s something they really need to be thinking about.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of type 1 diabetes in the world.

Scientists believe cord blood infusion could also be used to treat a wide range of auto immune diseases.

Still, it’s not a cheap process and not every family will be able to afford it.

There’s also no guarantee the treatment will transfer to humans, says Professor Craig, but there’s every reason to be hopeful.

“We do hope this is the first of many studies investigating this very novel approach to preventing type 1 diabetes.”

Napoli to present new recruit Higuain on Thursday

The club said on Thursday on their Twitter feed Higuain would be presented to the media at 1730 GMT at the club’s training camp in Dimaro, northern Italy.


Higuain’s move ends a six-and-a-half year stint in the Spanish capital, where he won three La Liga titles and a King’s Cup, and he is the third player to move from Real to Napoli in recent weeks following Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol.

Napoli are looking to strengthen their squad for their domestic and Champions League campaigns and had cash to spend after last week agreeing the sale of Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani to Paris St Germain for a reported fee of 64 million euros ($84.6 million).

Higuain cost them 37 million euros plus a possible 3 million more in performance-linked bonuses, while forward Callejon and defender Albiol were around 9 million each, Spanish media reported.

Born in Brest, France where his father was playing professional soccer, Higuain joined Real from Argentina’s River Plate in December 2006 but initially struggled to win a place in the starting line up.

He established himself by netting 22 league goals in the 2008-09 season and was the club’s top scorer with 27 goals the following year before a back injury sidelined him for most of the 2010-11 campaign.

He scored 22 goals in Real’s championship-winning season under Jose Mourinho in 2011-12 but finished with a disappointing 16 in La Liga last term.

Never a favourite of Real president Florentino Perez, who was not in charge of the club when he joined, Higuain was regularly touted as the player most likely to make way for the latest “galactico” signing.

He showed resilience to silence his critics but made clear his desire to leave the nine-times European champions after captaining the side in the final game of last season.

Nicknamed “Pipita” after his father Jorge, who was known as “Pipa”, Higuain could have opted to play for France as he holds a French passport.

Diego Maradona brought him into the Argentina squad in the run up to the 2010 World Cup finals, where he finished as his nation’s leading scorer with four goals.

($1 = 0.7565 euros)

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Tobyb Davis)

Greek pensioner left suicide note of economic despair

A retired pharmacist who shot himself in the head in Athens’ busiest square, sparking clashes between protesters and police, left a suicide note lamenting poverty and despair, excerpts showed.


The 77-year-old man, who killed himself under a cypress tree in Syntagma Square on Wednesday, about hundred metres (yards) from parliament, said government austerity cuts had “wiped out” his pension and left him in penury.

Violence broke out after about 1,000 people poured into the square in a spontaneous anti-government protest following the suicide, rallied by messages on social media.

The dead man had also compared the government, which is implementing an unpopular economic overhaul in return for EU-IMF loans, to the regime imposed by Greece’s Nazi German occupiers in 1941.

“The occupation government… has literally wiped out my ability to survive, based on a respectable pension which I had paid for during a 35-year period,” the pensioner said in an excerpt published in Greek newspapers.

“I find no other solution for a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage to feed myself,” he allegedly wrote in red ink.

A police source said the man had cancer. Greek newspaper reports said he had a daughter but was separated from his wife.

On Wednesday, scuffles broke out with riot police after a group of around 50 youths threw stones at them. The police fired tear gas and charged the protesters after they began smashing the entrance of a luxury hotel.

At least two journalists were roughly-handled during the fracas despite their efforts to identify themselves, according to state television NET journalist George Gerafentis who said he had fallen to the ground.

The station showed footage of a second journalist being pushed to the ground and a riot policeman attempting to kick her.

An investigation has been ordered into the incident, a police source said.

Ten people were detained but later released.

Mourners had left flowers, candles and handwritten messages in the square, which for two years has been the main rallying point for protests against austerity measures designed to haul Greece from its fiscal crisis.

Some of the notes called for an “uprising of the people”.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs in the last year, and unemployment currently tops one million, a quarter of the workforce.

Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending, and has slashed civil servant salaries and pensions by up to 40 percent to secure bailout loan payments from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice offered his condolence’s over the man’s suicide.

“What I’d like to say is we’re deeply saddened to learn of any death in these circumstances, and just to express our sympathies,” he said.

Greece has a lower suicide rate than the European Union average but cases are multiplying after two years of tough austerity that have left over a million people jobless.

Economic difficulties have caused despair across the European South where governments in Italy, Portugal and Spain are applying similarly tough austerity policies.

In neighbouring Italy, five people have killed themselves in the last two weeks.

Greece’s Ta Nea daily gave an estimate of more than 450 suicides and 600 attempted suicides in the country last year, though it was not clear if the economic crisis was the cause.

The incident comes ahead of parliamentary elections expected in early May.

IMF spokesman Rice recalled that the two largest political parties in Greece have publicly supported the rescue.

Factbox: Main points of Euro group-Cyprus deal

These are the main points of a deal reached early between the eurozone nations and Cyprus, as presented in a statement released by the Eurogroup of finance ministers.


— Cyprus’s Popular Bank — Laiki in Greek — will be effectively shut down “with full contribution of equity shareholders, bond holders and uninsured depositors.”

It is understood that deposits up to 100,000 euros ($130,000) are insured, and thus not subject to any tax or “haircut.”

— Laiki will be broken up into an institution with valid assets and a “bad bank” that takes on the risky ones. The bad bank will be slowly dissolved.

— The valid part of Laiki will be integrated into the Bank of Cyprus (BoC).

That integration will be assisted with 9.0 billion euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance provided by the European Central Bank (ECB). “Only uninsured deposits in BoC will remain frozen until recapitalisation has been effected, and may subsequently be subject to appropriate conditions.”

— The ECB governing council will continue to provide the BoC with liquidity “in line with applicable rules.”

— The BoC is to be recapitalised “through a deposit/equity conversion of uninsured deposits with full contribution of equity shareholders and bond holders.”

— The conversion, details of which remain to be determined, “will be such that a capital ratio of 9% is secured by the end of the programme.”

A capital ratio is that of a bank’s own capital and reserves to its total assets and serves as a measure of its ability to withstand financial shocks.

— “All insured depositors in all banks will be fully protected in accordance with the relevant EU legislation.”

— Loans by the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, expected to total up to 10 billion euros, “will not be used to recapitalise Laiki and Bank of Cyprus.

“The Eurogroup is convinced that this solution is the best way forward for ensuring the overall viability and stability of the Cyprus financial system and its capability to finance the Cyprus economy,” the statement concluded.

Factbox: What is dengue fever?

By Scott Ritchie, James Cook University

Dengue is caused by four different serotypes (strains) of the dengue virus that can cause mild to severe illness in people, who are infected via mosquito bites.


Dengue has been spreading through most urbanised areas in the tropics in the last 30 years. Up to 40% of the global population live in dengue-infected tropics, and an estimated 50 to 100 million cases occur annually.

Classical dengue, the most common type of the illness, is characterised by a high fever, splitting headaches, vomiting, a rash and body aches. It’s referred to colloquially as “breakbone fever”. The severe form of the illness, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), is rare and its symptoms include blood plasma leakage, which may lead to shock and, potentially, death.

There’s no vaccine or specific medication to prevent dengue but both types can be treated with early diagnosis and fluid-replacement therapy. While fatalities are rare (less than 1% of cases), dengue epidemics can bring illness to thousands of people within weeks, causing chaos in communities and costing millions of dollars.

Dengue in Australia

The illness was once common in eastern Australia from the late-19th century through mid-20th century, stretching south nearly to Sydney. Large epidemics occurred in eastern New South Wales and Queensland. But with the demise of rainwater tanks after World War II and the advent of piped water, dengue-carrying mosquitoes retreated to north Queensland, where ample rains provide year-round breeding sites.

The prevalance of rainwater tanks could result in more dengue in Australia. Michael Jefferies

Dengue is now limited to the urban areas of north Queensland, the only region in Australia that has the carrier Aedes aegypti mosquito. Highly urbanised and feeding almost exclusively on humans, this mosquito loves unscreened old Queensland houses.

And the area is increasingly subject to outbreaks of the illness. Since 2000, there have been 36 dengue outbreaks in north Queensland, resulting in 2,364 confirmed cases that led to three deaths – all this from the bite of a rather innocuous-looking mosquito.

The increase in dengue activity overseas is also responsible for an escalation of imported cases into Australia. In the dengue-receptive cities of Cairns and Townsville, the number of imported dengue cases has jumped from ten a year to between 30 and 50 a year in the last four years. All four dengue types have been active in the area, resulting in multiple outbreaks.

To date, Queensland Health staff based in Cairns and Townsville have been able to eliminate the virus in each of the 40 different outbreaks in the region since 1995, preventing the virus from becoming established (endemic) in north Queensland. This is important as persistent outbreaks of multiple dengue viruses is associated with increased incidence of severe illness and deaths.

Current global dengue trends suggest the virus will become more common in Australia. Rainwater tanks are again decking suburban yards, and outbreaks of the virus have increased overseas (like the current epidemic in India), which means more imported cases of dengue.

Controlling dengue outbreaks

While mosquitoes breed in obvious stagnant water sites such as tyres, buckets, pot plant bases and boats under the mango tree, they also exploit hidden, flooded “cryptic containers” that are even harder to remove or treat. These include sump pits, telecommunication pits, septic tanks, roof gutters and rainwater tanks.

Water buckets provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. How Big/Flickr

Dengue cases are also hard to isolate, especially the all-important index case (the initial case imported from overseas that kicks off an outbreak). Australia’s love affair with Bali has resulted in hundreds of cases among cash-flushed youth seeking a brief tropical holiday. And the epidemic in India could have a strong impact unless controlled before the end-of-year holidays.

All of Queensland’s recent large outbreaks, from the 500 cases in 2003 to the recent 1,000 cases in 2008-09, were initiated by a traveller who was not detected by the health system for over four weeks. By the time Queensland Health knew about the ignition point for the outbreak, several other people had been infected, and had spread the virus throughout the Cairns area.

Dengue control involves careful synchronisation of a multi-disciplinary team of public health nurses, epidemiologists, entomologists and mosquito control experts, and health promotion workers. Loss of any part of this team can seriously impact the overall success of a control program.

While some control methods in development hold some promise – the Wolbachia bacteria that blocks dengue infection in mosquitoes, for instance, and Sumitomo’s smokeless mosquito coil that repels and kills mosquitoes in the house – they’re still in some years away from becoming available.

Given the increase in dengue activity overseas, the need to support current dengue infrastructure has never been greater.

Scott Ritchie receives funding from FNIH, NHMRC, Queensland Govt., CSIRO