World Tuberculosis Day
Monday, 27 March 2017
Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan—Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) (11:40): Last Friday, 24 March, was World Tuberculosis Day, as designated by the World Health Organization. This annual event marks the anniversary of the 1882 discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis by German Nobel Laureate Dr Robert Koch. It is an important initiative which acknowledges that a very preventable, treatable disease still claims the lives of up to 1.5 million people every year. I rise to speak on this motion today and to thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing this issue to the attention of the parliament. And I thank my colleagues on both sides of this chamber for their support.
Tuberculosis has been all but eradicated in developed countries. However, it remains a major global health problem in most developing countries. In 2015, more than 10.4 million people worldwide contracted this disease, which was known also as consumption in the early 19th century. The Asia-Pacific region, Australia's local neighbourhood, has more than half of the global tuberculosis cases. Our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, experiences one of the highest rates of this highly contagious and airborne disease in the Pacific. In 2015, Papua New Guinea was struck with an estimated 33,000 cases of tuberculosis. To put that into perspective, that is equivalent to the population of Gladstone in Queensland.
Treatment of this disease is not without challenges, especially for those who live in remote regions like Papua New Guinea. The standard short course TB therapy is six months in length. This involves 28 pills each week. However, for patients with drug-resistance TB treatment is considerably longer—20 pills a day plus injections for three years. Currently, more than one-third of the world's population is infected—five to 10 per cent of whom become sick or infectious at some time during their life. The case for early prevention and targeted strategies is very strong, as infectious sufferers, on average, will infect between 10 and 15 others each year, contributing to the pandemic nature of this disease.
We know a person may be infected with TB bacilli 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. Two thousand cases of drug resistant TB were recorded for 2015 in Papua New Guinea alone. Only last year there was an outbreak of drug resistant cases on Daru, near the PNG-Australia border. The situation in Daru was so dire that, with 160 reported cases, the TB ward in the island's hospital was at capacity, meaning that some could not be saved. This very concerning position means that there are strains of TB which are resistant to all of the major anti-TB drugs we currently have at our disposal.
The prevalence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis continues to increase worldwide. The World Health Organization's End TB Strategy was endorsed by all member states at the 2014 World Health Assembly. It aims to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2035, 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 regime which is the first to treat both drug sensitive and multi-drug resistant TB. This new treatment has the potential to shorten and simplify TB therapy and reduce the cost of treating multi-drug resistant TB by up to 90 per cent.
However, there is hope, and I will take this moment to recognise YWAM Medical Ships, which have joined the fight by helping to improve access to diagnosis and treatment in PNG's rural and remote areas. YWAM Medical Ships have continued to provide health services to villagers and health workers in very remote parts of PNG. The Australian government is continuing to work toward combating the challenge of tuberculosis in the region and to work toward the need for discovery, development and rapid uptake of new tools, interventions and strategies to achieve this goal. I would like to place on record my recognition and acknowledgement of the work being undertaken by the likes of the Burnet Institute and the Global Fund, in partnership with the PNG government and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. To continue the fight against tuberculosis, I call on the Australian government to ensure funding is committed to prevent and treat this insidious disease in Papua New Guinea. I commend this motion to the House.