World Tuberculosis Day
26 March, 2018
Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan—Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) (12:12): Designated by the World Health Organization as World Tuberculosis Day, on 24 March every year we seek to continue to raise awareness of TB. It is an important initiative that acknowledges that a very preventable and very treatable disease still claims the lives of up to 1.5 million people every year. I rise to speak on this motion today, and I thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing this issue to the attention of the parliament.
Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, has been all but eradicated in developed countries. Sadly, this disease remains a major problem in most developing countries. The harsh reality is that tuberculosis remains one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, with 10.4 million people falling ill with TB in 2016, and 1.7 million dying from the disease. In that same year, one million children became ill with TB, with the tragic result of 250,000 of their young lives ending. Significantly, on Australia's doorstep, within our local neighbourhood, the Asia-Pacific region has more than half of all global tuberculosis cases. Papua New Guinea experiences one of the highest rates of this highly contagious and airborne disease in the Pacific. In 2015, PNG was struck by an estimated 33,000 cases of tuberculosis. To put that into perspective, that is the equivalent of the population of the city of Gladstone, in Queensland.
Currently, more than one-quarter of the world's population is infected with latent TB, five to 10 per cent of whom become sick or infectious at some time in their life. For sufferers of TB, who are often living in impoverished, isolated locations, treatment of this disease is not without challenges. The standard short-course TB therapy is six months in length and involves 28 pills a week. For those patients who have drug-resistant TB, treatment is considerably longer: 20 pills a day, plus injections, for three years.
The case for early prevention and targeted strategies is very strong, as infectious suffers will, on average, infect between 10 and 15 others each year, contributing to the pandemic nature of this disease. We know that a person may be infected with TB in the dormant stage for many years, ultimately having active symptoms when their immune system is weakened. Unfortunately, even with the aid of modern medicines and technology, not all cases can be successfully treated; 2,000 cases of drug-resistant TB were recorded in 2015 in Papua New Guinea. An outbreak of drug-resistant cases on Daru, near the PNG-Australian border, in 2016 demonstrates the real threat of this disease to Australia. This very concerning position means that there are strains of TB that are resistant to all of the major anti-TB drugs that we currently have available.
The prevalence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis continues to increase worldwide: 490,000 cases in 2016 alone. The World Health Organization's End TB strategy was endorsed by all member states at the 2014 World Health Assembly and aims to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030, with full elimination by 2050. In 2015 the Australian government announced a $30 million investment over three years that will help bring new diagnostic tests and drugs to market to tackle the threats of TB and malaria. As part of this announcement, the TB Alliance received $10 million over three years to support late-stage clinical trials of new TB treatments. These include the phase 3 trial of a new drug regimen that is the first to treat both drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant TB. This new treatment has the potential to shorten and simplify TB therapy and reduce the cost of treating multidrug-resistant TB by up to nine per cent. There is some hope for sufferers in nearby PNG, and I would like to place on record my appreciation and recognition of the work undertaken by the YWAM Medical Ships. They continue their fight by helping to improve access to diagnosis and treatment in PNG's more isolated areas.
The Australian government is continuing to work towards combating the challenge of TB in the region and the need for discovery, development and rapid uptake of new tools, intervention and strategies to achieve this goal. To continue the fight against tuberculosis, I call on the Australian government to ensure that funding is committed to prevent and treat this insidious disease, particularly in Papua New Guinea, and I commend the motion to the House.