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Antibiotics shortage impeding infectious kidney disease treatment in Yarrabah

Rhiannon Clarke -

Medical professionals in far north Queensland are facing a challenge in treating an infectious kidney disease outbreak due to a shortage of the preferred medical treatment.

The community of Yarrabah has reported six cases of post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (APSGN), a rare disease that can develop after infections with streptococcus bacteria.

According to Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service director Jason King, APSGN symptoms may not be obvious, but it is a serious infectious condition that can quickly spread and have long-term health consequences.

"Due to a number of factors, it can compound and create a population that has earlier and worse rates of chronic kidney disease," he told the ABC.

Healthcare practitioners across the country are facing a shortage of Bicillin L-A, an antibiotic that is the preferred treatment for APSGN, rheumatic heart disease, and syphilis, according to Dr King.

This shortage coincides with the outbreak of these diseases, which disproportionately affect Aboriginal communities like Yarrabah.

"We're really faced with difficult circumstances where we're forced to use second-line alternatives which are often more difficult to administer across a time frame," Dr King said.

The president of the Queensland branch of the National Pharmacy Guild Chris Owen emphasised that Australia is heavily reliant on global trends to secure the availability of essential medications such as Bicillin L-A.

Dr King says overcrowded living conditions contribute to the spread

of infectious diseases.(Image: ABC News)

"When I say that, it's not the fact that we haven't wanted them — we just haven't been able to get them."

The Australian policy mandates the maintenance of a supply of specific medications listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for a period of four to six months.

Typically, orders for these medications are placed six to 12 months ahead of time, the ABC reports.

"We're trying to estimate demand and sometimes we get that wrong," Mr Owen said

"Sometimes there's a spike in these cases that wasn't foreseen and there's not enough supply in the country to go around."

Furthermore, the far north Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands have experienced a surge in syphilis cases over the past three years, with a significant number of cases reported in remote communities.

This trend is reflected in the national data, which revealed the highest annual increase in syphilis rates since the disease became notifiable in 2004.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has released a statement acknowledging the significance of a dependable antibiotic supply.

However, Pfizer, the manufacturer, has informed them of a global shortage of both higher and lower-strength versions of the medicine, which is expected to persist until November of the following year.

In response, the TGA has granted wholesalers permission to limit the supply in order to ensure fair distribution. They are actively collaborating with the appropriate federal, state, and territory government entities to address this issue.

The spokesperson acknowledged the crucial significance of Bicillin in Aboriginal communities, particularly in the wake of the recent APSGN outbreak in Yarrabah located in Far North Queensland.

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