Public may decide ulcer study’s future

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The future course of a Mornington Peninsula-based study into the causes of the flesh-eating Buruli ulcer could depend on the outcome of a public meeting next Saturday.

Organisers are hoping for “a reasonably civilised event” to fully explain the Buruli study so “concerned groups and individuals can decide where to take it from there”.

In a letter to the mayor Cr David Gill last week, Flinders MP and Health Minister Greg Hunt said Mornington Peninsula Shire had “total control” over “mosquito control activities” and “a broader public health responsibility to its residents to ensure that all necessary actions are being taken to address the occurrence of Buruli ulcer”.

Cr Gill on Sunday expressed surprise that the shire had control over the study – which he has criticised as being a trial because of the chemical sprayings – noting that just one shire officer was involved, mainly attending meetings with the research scientists.

In his letter (which The News has seen) Mr Hunt also describes the shire as a “cornerstone partner” in the study being conducted by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the Doherty Institute, Barwon Health, Austin Health, the CSIRO, Agriculture Victoria and the University of Melbourne.

Saturday’s forum at Rye civic hall has been organised by Paul Saunders, Kelvin Stingle and Roslyn Browning, all members of the peninsula branch of The Greens.

Mr Saunders said the forum was not a “Greens event” but was being held because many residents were concerned about the spread of the ulcer and the methods proposed to research and control it.

The forum comes in the wake of revelations that properties in three streets in Rye have already been sprayed with chemicals to kill mosquitoes (“Ulcer study ‘now a trial’ – mayor” The News 31/7/19).

News that the spraying had taken place in March surprised shire councillors and angered members of the public who were already voicing their concerns over the environmental effects of the proposed spraying. More than 15,000 signatures have been added to an online petition opposed to the use of chemicals.

Another round of chemical spraying is due in October.

The August e-news from the Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora & Fauna Association criticises the use of chemicals to control mosquitoes in the face of “ample evidence” that Buruli ulcers stem from lesions and scratches “in fact, anything but mosquito bites in the original Bairnsdale studies”.

“There are political considerations and health ministers and others appear to want to be seen as doing something, even if it’s scientifically and environmentally unsound,” the SPIFFA article states.

Saturday’s forum may also provide a platform for a showdown between Cr Gill and Mr Hunt.

Cr Gill has questioned Mr Hunt’s oversight of $1.5 million of taxpayers’ money provided to the Buruli study, while Mr Hunt has hit back, saying the shire knew all about the study and should consult “with the community in the near future to outline [its] plans within this research project and any impacts on the local community”.

Mr Hunt provided “numerous statements” to Cr Gill to show “this has been the shire’s project from the outset”.

Cr Gill said while the Buruli ulcer was a major health issue “the solving of one problem should not lead to other possible health problems for residents and the environment”.

“The widespread spraying of insects and the possible effect on birds and fish is a major environmental concern to residents,” Cr Gill said.

“Council has not made a decision on a spraying and eradication project on public or private land.

“If council were to undertake such an action it would seek public consultation after an evidence-based assessment, including the effect on people’s health and the environmental impact.”

The public forum to discuss ways of controlling the spread of the Buruli ulcer will be held 2-4pm this Saturday (10 August) at Rye civic hall. Expected to speak at the forum are Flinders MP Greg Hunt, Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr David Gill, Nepean MP Chris Brayne, beekeeper Simon Mulvaney, scientists involved in the Buruli ulcer study, the Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora & Fauna Association and ulcer sufferers.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 6 August 2019

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