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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3453


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (20:05): World Tuberculosis Day will be recognised this Saturday, 24 March. 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 Melbourne Ports for bringing this issue to the attention of the parliament. Tuberculosis has all but been eradicated in developed countries but, unfortunately, it remains a major global health problem in most developing countries. The Asia-Pacific region, Australia's local neighbourhood, has over half the global tuberculosis cases. More recently, while five of the six regions experienced a reduction in the incidence of the disease, South-East Asia experienced an increase.

Tuberculosis can have very serious effects on human beings. It mostly attacks adults during their most productive working years, which then has a major detrimental effect on local communities as well as the broader society. Currently, more than one-third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacillus, five to 10 per cent of whom become sick or infectious at sometime during their life. The case for early prevention and targeted strategies is very strong as infectious TB sufferers on average will infect between 10 and 15 others each year, contributing to the epidemiological nature of this airborne disease. We also know that when a person is infected by TB bacilli the disease is in the dormant stage, which can last for many years. Their chances of ultimately having active symptoms of TB greatly increase when their immune system weakens. This is why the World Health Organisation calls human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, and TB a lethal combination, with each disease speeding up the other's progress. Combined with HIV, more than 30 per cent of people with the TB bacillus present with symptoms. HIV weakens their immune system significantly, with TB being a leading cause of death in HIV-positive people.

Tragically, the world is now facing a very worrying state of affairs with strains of TB resistant to all of the major anti-TB drugs we currently have in our arsenal. Fifty years ago we did not have a single medication to cure it. Now we are facing the situation where the two most powerful drugs being used are ineffective in cases of multidrug- resistant TB. This poses a serious threat to TB control, particularly in patients who are also infected with HIV. There is an urgent need to invest money and assistance directly to places that need it most. Consequently, through global initiatives, primarily the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Commonwealth government in the past has been strongly committed to solving this global challenge. It is very important that Australia funds TB control programs and surveillance efforts in neighbouring countries, particularly Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Burma. In the past, AusAID has provided funds to the Three Diseases Fund, which has now seen testing rates for TB and those who have HIV increase from about 2,000 cases every six months to more than 4,500 cases being tested in the first six months of 2011. Over this period, Australia's funded activities contributed to registration for treatment of 60,000 new TB patients, successful lifesaving treatment of 18,000 new TB cases and 13,000 community based referrals of TB suspected cases to health facilities.

Australian governments have previously been able to contribute to the important progress occurring in Papua New Guinea, with whom we share a common border. We are providing an initial $8 million from 2011-12 to 2014-15 to improve service delivery and treatment for TB patients in Western Province. We are also helping World Vision stop TB in Western Province, a project which aims to train staff, facilitate treatment and promote community awareness. I regret, however, to inform the House that earlier this year the federal government turned its back on the region, and Papua New Guinea in particular, when the federal Labor government and state Labor government of Queensland decided to cancel the visiting TB clinics in Queensland. There are deaths caused by TB in the Torres Straits, which the government has decided to completely ignore. Eight million dollars of new funding is all well and good, but if we want to see long-term improvement in Papua New Guinea this government should not cut effective programs at the same time. I call on the government to reinstate this program for Papua New Guinea nationals. One of the millennium development goals is to reduce the prevalence and death rates of TB by 50 per cent in 2015, relative to 1990 levels, and to eliminate TB as a public health problem by 2050. The World Health Organisation believes this can be achieved due to the dedication and very hard work being done through organisations such as the global fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It is vital, therefore, that Australia continues to contribute to that fund and other programs in our local region. We must continue to support World Tuberculosis Day and similar programs, so that many more millions of people can enjoy a healthy and happy life, and one free from tuberculosis.