People fleeing the Israel-Gaza war will receive free healthcare under a Victorian initiative, amid calls for other states to follow suit.
The state’s health minister, Mary-Anne Thomas, will on Saturday announce people fleeing the conflict – who aren’t eligible for Medicare due to their visa – will be able to access essential healthcare, specialised mental health support and language services.
It comes after New South Wales announced earlier in December that it would provide free hospital emergency care, some surgery and outpatient services, hospital tests and limited emergency dental care, as well as maternity care, mental health care, ambulances and the use of interpreters, to people fleeing the conflict.
But the Victorian program will go further. It will include care in public hospitals, public dental, and maternal child health, as well as services from community health providers, priority primary care centres, local mental health and wellbeing hubs and specialised refugee and asylum seeker health services.
Thomas said the advice is being communicated to service providers by the health department, and was consistent with the support offered to asylum seekers and refugees.
“For people escaping the devastating humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Palestine and Israel, the displacement and trauma of conflict is unimaginable – so we’re proud to be supporting those who arrive in Victoria by providing free, accessible public healthcare,” Thomas said.
The health department expects the majority of arrivals will be women and children, who will have unidentified healthcare needs, including medication and diagnostic requirements related to chronic health conditions and trauma.
Health services are also being encouraged to offer influenza and Covid-19 vaccinations.
Dr Mohamad Assoum, an epidemiologist and global health specialist, who has organised pro-Palestine events in western Sydney, welcomed the Victorian commitment and said other states and territories should follow suit.
“This has to be a priority for people coming in from Gaza, because their health is going to be absolutely dire. We know severe and acute malnutrition and dehydration is occurring because of the embargos that have been placed by the IDF [Israel Defence Force] and the Israeli government,” Assoum said.
“We also know that the level of injuries the physical injuries are incredibly traumatic and very severe, ranging from amputations to loss of vision.”
He said trauma and mental health effects were also likely to be ongoing, particularly for children.
Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza was launched after Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people. Unicef, the UN’s children’s fund, estimates that minors account for at least 40% of the estimated 20,000 people killed so far.
Between 7 October and 20 November, the federal government granted visas to 1,793 Israeli citizens and 860 to Palestinians.
The subclass 600 visa offered to Palestinians and Israeli citizens wanting to come to Australia is not a permanent visa. The visitor visa allows for temporary entry for up to 12 months but does not provide access to Medicare, Centrelink or settlement services.
The same visa has been previously issued to Ukrainian citizens, after the Russian invasion in 2022.