MSF confirms forced exit from Nauru as refugee mental health 'beyond desperate'
Médecins Sans Frontières has confirmed it has officially been forced to end its mental health work on Nauru, leaving local and refugee patients behind in a situation it said was “beyond desperate”.
MSF was given its marching orders on Friday and told to cease its services on Saturday. Several days of attempted negotiations failed to sway the Nauruan government.
The organisation said: “MSF is deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of its patients and describes the mental health situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the island as ‘beyond desperate’,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
MSF, which plans to hold a media conference on Thursday, confirmed it had “officially been forced to terminate its provision of mental healthcare services on Nauru and all its international staff have now left the island”.
There is a growing mental health crisis among adults and children on the island, and dozens have been flown to Australia for treatment because of a lack of adequate available treatment on Nauru.
Despite this the Nauruan health minister last Friday told MSF its psychological and psychiatric services were “no longer required on the island”.
MSF had been treating both refugees and locals since November 2017. Asylum seekers are treated by the Australian government contractor, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), but they have little trust among their patients. IHMS and MSF didn’t share medical notes, island health sources said, risking overmedication and inconsistent treatment.
MSF gave patients their files, which often made their way into legal applications to Australia’s federal court for urgent medical transfers, some of which Nauru officials had opposed.
There has been speculation that this informed Nauru’s decision (they lose money every time a refugee is flown out) but no specific reason has been given.
According to MSF’s website, it has provided “one door for all” psychological and psychiatric services as part of an agreement with Nauru’s health ministry.
It has pointed to a lack of mental health support for both “the Nauruan population and the asylum seekers and refugees living on the island as part of the Australian government’s policy of offshore processing”.
MSF staff were also training and supporting local authorities in an effort to increase Nauru’s capacity to provide psychological and psychiatric treatment.
“At this stage MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island,” a MSF spokeswoman had said on Saturday.
“We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work.”
The Australian government, which regularly distances itself from involvement in its offshore processing centre when questioned on various allegations, failures, and deaths, said the issue was a matter for Nauru and MSF.
All Médecins Sans Frontières’ international staff have left Nauru. The organisation said it is ‘deeply concerned’ for its patients on the island.