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Senate notes World Tuberculosis Day

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A cross-party motion in the Senate has recognised World Tuberculosis Day and noted the enormous contribution of 19th century German physician Dr Robert Koch in combating the disease.

It has also highlighted the prevalence of TB in this region, particularly in Papua New Guinea, and Australia’s leadership in testing for and treating it throughout the Pacific.

Prior to March 24, which was World Tuberculosis Day, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who is also Minister for International Development and the Pacific; Labor Senators Claire Moore (Shadow Minister for Women) and Lisa Singh; and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale combined to draw attention to TB and Dr Koch’s legacy.

Their motion insisted on the Senate noting that:

  1. 24 March is World Tuberculosis Day, and marks the anniversary of German Nobel laureate Dr Robert Koch’s 1882 discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis;
  2. tuberculosis is contagious and airborne, ranking as the world’s leading cause of death from a single infectious agent;
  3. in 2016, 1.7 million people died from tuberculosis worldwide and 10.4 million people became sick with the disease, with over 60 per cent of cases occurring in countries in our region;
  4. large gaps in tuberculosis detection and treatment remain, with 4.1 million cases of active tuberculosis that were not diagnosed and treated in 2016, including 600,000 children;
  5. in 2016, Papua New Guinea had one of the highest rates of tuberculosis infection in the Pacific, with an estimated 35,000 total cases, including 2,000 drug-resistant cases, not taking into consideration the large number of cases that go unreported in many regions; and
  6. tuberculosis is… the leading cause of death among HIV positive people globally.

Their motion went on to detail how HIV weakens the immune system and is lethal in combination with tuberculosis, each contributing to the other’s progress.

“It is now linked to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, and considered a preventable and treatable disease, however many current treatment tools – drugs, diagnostics and vaccines – are outdated and ineffective,” they said.

The Senate also recognised that the funding Australia is providing to support the testing and treatment of tuberculosis in PNG, including the joint program with the World Bank, is already leading to an initiative to achieve universal testing for tuberculosis in the township of Daru.

It also noted he commitment of up to $75 million over five years for Product Development Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative to accelerate access to new therapeutics and diagnostics for drug resistant tuberculosis, and malaria and mosquito vector control – an increase in funding to build on the successes of Australia’s previous investments.

Australia has a three-year $220 million pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (2017-2019) – a fund that has supported tuberculosis testing and treatment to 17.4 million people since 2002, including over 8.2 million people in the Indo-Pacific region.

Through Australia’s endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, it made what the Senators described as a bold commitment to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030.

“The scheduling of the first United Nations High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis in September 2018… will set out commitments to accelerate action towards ending tuberculosis as an epidemic and provide Australia with an opportunity to showcase the success of our investment in tuberculosis in our region,” they said.

Their motion also called on the Australian Government to attend the UN High-Level Meeting this year, and commit to increased Australian action and leadership on research and development, prevention, testing and treatment as part of the global effort to eradicate tuberculosis.

CHRIS JOHNSON

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