In a growing health crisis in East Timor, right on Australia’s doorstep, rates of preventable diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and severe malnutrition are rising, according to a Foreign Correspondent report last night.

Timor-based doctor Dan Murphy told the ABC’s Sophie McNeill:

“There is really no access to anything near adequate healthcare. In every category in health, their numbers are worse than most of south-east Asia. We don’t have very many meds. We don’t have very many diagnostic tools so mostly we’re going by smoke and mirrors. You can’t do as well as you could if you had all the right tests.”

East Timor has some of the worst malnutrition rates outside of Africa, yet Australia cut its aid budget to the burgeoning nation by $15 million this financial year — and World Vision Australia says a new child health and nutrition project has been shelved as a result.

Meanwhile, a controversial deal under which Cambodia would take 1000 refugees currently being held by Australia in the camp on Nauru is set to be signed. The reported price tag for Australia? A cool $40 million.

Labor called it a “slush fund” to buy off Cambodian co-operation — but it’s much more than that. It also comes at a high price for one of our nearest neighbours. What a tragedy that after 24 years of brutal occupation — an occupation that Australia belatedly helped to end — the East Timorese are dying of diseases that were long consigned to history in a country just 600 kilometres from its shores.