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People are sick, time to put patients first - Senate committee offers recommendations for next steps

The Community Affairs References Committee has completed its national senate inquiry into Lyme-like illness in Australia, and has tabled recommendations on how to cut through polarising evidence about the local presence of Lyme and Lyme like-illness and treating people who are presenting symptoms.

“For decades there has been a debate about the presence of Lyme (or Lyme-like) disease in Australia and countering evidence and arguments have been presented over and over again. Australians presenting life threatening or very serious and prolonged symptoms have been crying out for help.

“Classic Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis is a tick borne disease that is present in Europe, Asia, and parts of the US. There is currently a complex debate around whether Classic Lyme disease, Chronic Lyme disease, and Lyme-like illnesses exist in Australia.

“The committee does not profess to have solved this debate but has made a number of recommendations on the next steps in research, and treating people that are clearly unwell and need treatment.

“As a matter of urgency, the committee has recommended that public funding be committed for research into tick-borne pathogens. One thing that was clear from the inquiry is that more research needs to be done.

“The committee has also called for the Department of Health to map the geographical distribution and prevalence of Lyme-disease in Australia that has been acquired overseas. There must also be an assessment of tick-borne illness in Australia, these findings need to be made publicly available.

“As an immediate way of progressing the issue, the committee recommends that stakeholders and government medical authorities move to establish a clinical trial of treatment guidelines. Best treatment options must be incorporated into these guidelines, and funding for research into medically appropriate treatment should be allocated.

“A summit, headed by the Department of Health, should develop framework to address tick-borne diseases across all jurisdictions. There needs to be a national and consistent approach to this issue.

“People are sick, and they need support from the Government and the medical world rather than stigma and the feeling that they’re being dismissed. That is why the committee recommends that medical practitioners and authorities genuinely address patients that have suspected tick-borne illnesses. Patients should be treated for their individual symptoms rather than dismissed and stigmatised because of an illness label.

“The volume of independent submissions to the inquiry where people shared their struggles alone should demonstrate that this issue should be taken seriously and investigated in a concise way”.  

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