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Tuberculosis continues to threaten regional health security

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During a World Tuberculosis Day speech delivered in the Senate in March, International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells sought to highlight the devastating outcomes tuberculosis is still having globally, including in Australia’s region.

TB is the world’s top infectious disease killer. In 2016, 1.7 million people died from TB – almost 4,700 each day.

Twelve of the world’s 30 highest TB burden countries are located in our region, accounting for nearly half of all cases of drug-resistant TB and TB deaths worldwide.

“Turning the page on TB – once and for all” is a Federal Government priority, Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.

In the 12 months to December last year, there were 10 million movements out of Australia. Two million Australians visited Pacific island countries and Oceania and another 3.1 million Australians visited South-East Asian countries.

“Thirty highest TB-burden countries are located in our region and account for nearly half of all cases of drug-resistant TB and TB deaths worldwide,” the Minister said.

“Papua New Guinea, which is four kilometres to our north, has a major TB problem and, in particular, a drug-resistant TB problem. That not only puts PNG at risk; it also puts Australians at risk.”

In 2014, Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System received 1,339 TB notifications, representing a rate of 5.7 per 100,000 population

However, the Department of Health notes Australia’s overseas-born population continued to represent the majority (86 per cent) of TB notifications and Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population continue to record TB rates about six times higher than the Australian born non-Indigenous population. 

The Department estimates the cost of treating a single patient with drug resistant TB can be up to $260,000 in Australia.

“TB not only affects individuals, but it also cripples communities; disrupts tourism, trade and investment and sets back regional economic growth and development,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.

The Minister said that in June last year, the Government announced a new partnership with the World Bank, targeting drug resistant TB in vulnerable communities in PNG.

Another way that Australia is contributing to the fight to end TB is through research.

With one in four people with TB not getting treatment through public health programs, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo, continues to urge Governments to do more.

“The TB rate is coming down in the region, but it’s not happening fast enough. We need to do much more to achieve our goal of ending the epidemic once and for all,” he said

 MEREDITH HORNE

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