World Tuberculosis Day 2019
Monday, 18 February 2019
To echo the words of the member for Leichhardt: it is a tragedy that, despite tuberculosis, TB, being a preventable and curable disease, 10 million people on this planet contract it every year, and of those about 1.6 million die. I thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing this issue to the parliament again. The member for Leichhardt shares my interest and passion for Papua New Guinea and our Pacific neighbours, but he also shares another determination: the eradication of TB. It is important that we recognise this disease for what it is: insidious.
That is why 24 March, World Tuberculosis Day, raises awareness about an illness that affects many of our nearby neighbours. Designated by the World Health Organization, this event marks the anniversary of the 1882 discovery by German Nobel laureate Dr Robert Koch of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. This important annual event is an initiative which acknowledges that a very preventable and treatable disease still claims the lives of more than 1½ million people every year.
Tuberculosis has been all but eradicated in developed countries; however, it remains a major global health problem in most developing countries.
Twelve of the world's 30 highest TB-burden countries are located in our region. These countries account for nearly half of all cases of drug-resistant TB and TB deaths worldwide. Our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, experiences one of the highest rates of this highly contagious and airborne disease in the Pacific: 432 cases per 100,000 people. Australia does not escape the impact, with more than 1,000 cases reported each year.
TB has no respect for country borders, and the presence of TB in our region, particularly in PNG, is a significant health threat to Australian residents. 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 the city of Gladstone, 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-resistant 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 do know that a person may be infected with TB bacilli in the dormant stage for many years, ultimately having active symptoms when the immune system is weakened. Even with the aid of modern medicines and technology, not all cases can be successfully treated. 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, and aims to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2035, with full elimination by 2050.
In 2018, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, announced that four product development partnerships would receive $75 million in new medical research funding from 2018 to 2022, two of which will focus on TB. This funding will be used to accelerate the development and adoption of better diagnostic tools and testing protocols for TB, and research new TB drugs and treatment regimes, including drug-resistant TB.
I segue to YWAM medical ships, which have joined the fight by helping to improve access to diagnosis and treatment in PNG's rural areas. They have continued to provide health services to villages and health workers in very remote parts of PNG. And the Australian government is continuing to work towards combatting the challenge of tuberculosis in the region and the need for discovery, development and rapid uptake of new tools, interventions and strategies to achieve this goal.
I acknowledge the work being undertaken by organisations like Burnet Institute and the Global Fund in partnership with the PNG government and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. We need to work together and pool our research. To continue the fight against tuberculosis, I call for a heightened commitment as a country to increase our efforts to fight this crippling disease. I commend this motion to the House.