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Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Australia and our region

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MDR-TB threatens TB control programs in Australia’s region and will not diminish without concerted efforts

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s great killers, but Australia has been relatively protected because of its strong public health system. Of 1300 cases reported in Australia each year, almost 90% occur in the overseas born, although Indigenous Australians are also disproportionately affected. Most cases arise in the large immigrant communities from India, Vietnam, the Philippines, China and Nepal, but high rates are also reported from Papua New Guinea (PNG), Ethiopia, Somalia and Myanmar. These cases occur primarily in permanent residents and students, rather than in refugees or those on humanitarian visas.1

Many countries are now reporting significant rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis, with at least 480 000 cases worldwide now attributable to multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB; defined as resistance to the two most effective first-line agents, isoniazid and rifampicin).2 However, countries with the highest rates of drug resistance often have the poorest quality data, largely due to the lack of resistance testing. Globally, MDR-TB was estimated to constitute 3.3% of new and 20% of retreatment cases in 2014. Although the deployment of molecular diagnostics to detect resistance is progressing, only a quarter of these cases were correctly identified.…