Helping change lives of refugees

EVERY week Launceston GP Andy Hodson practises third-world medicine from a modern Frankland Street clinic, treating conditions he once thought he'd only read about.

Dr Hodson helps change the lives of refugees who have become used to living with debilitating vision and hearing impairments, or rotten teeth, and has become used to identifying and treating imported diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

He compares his job to a world tour, and says every patient is a surprise.

Dr Hodson has been with Tasmania Medicare Local's Northern Refugee Health Clinic since it was established in 2007.

He screens humanitarian entrants for illness within two to three weeks of arrival, offering any necessary vaccinations and treatment for as long as eight months.

Dr Hodson said the clinic was borne out of the concerns of Northern Tasmanian GPs, who didn't feel they had the manpower or expertise to cope when Australia increased its humanitarian refugee intake.

He said refugee health was a field of medicine that evolved with migration patterns, with post-war European arrivals presenting fewer challenges as their health issues were similar to Australia's.

``Now we deal with people from Africa, at times we've had people from South America, Europeans, and now a lot of people from Asia,'' Dr Hodson said.

``A lot of the refugees' problems are diseases of poverty and diseases of inadequate engineering, which we don't see in Australia anymore.

``The vast majority are nutritional, and for people with the darker pigments vitamin D is a very common issue.''

Dr Hodson said they also saw infectious diseases specific to certain parts of the world, but emphasised there was no transmission risk.

Three doctors and three nurses work with Dr Hodson at the clinic, and they also work closely with Launceston General Hospital specialists and the Migrant Resource Centre.

Dr Hodson said their collaborative model of care was being looked to by interstate health providers, offering transitional support with the aim to give refugees the skills to navigate health services independently.

He said fourth-year University of Tasmania medical students sat in on clinics, and he lectured at Launceston and Burnie campuses.

Dr Hodson said his greatest pleasure came from meeting extraordinary people every week, and being able to do simple things to help them adjust to life in Australia.

He said he saw evidence of amazing medical survivals, and received a lot of gratitude.

``People in refugee situations don't have access to things which we take for granted, like dentistry, optometry and hearing services,'' Dr Hodson.

``So when you have a kid who's gone to school for the first time and can't cope because they can't see the blackboard, and you give that kid some glasses and you suddenly find that this kid who everybody's been writing off as stupid is actually brilliant, that's rewarding.''

Doctor Andrew Hodson deals with refugee health care from his Frankland Street clinic in Launceston. Picture: MARK JESSER

Doctor Andrew Hodson deals with refugee health care from his Frankland Street clinic in Launceston. Picture: MARK JESSER

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