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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3450

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:50): As stated in the motion, tuberculosis is a disease that is treatable and preventable yet it still claims 1.5 million lives a year. It is unacceptable, I believe, that in the 21st century so many people suffer from such a preventable disease. It is a disease that destroys generations of people, mostly from developing countries in Africa, South-East Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Recently a group of people from Burma came to my office and told me about the very deep and terrible effects of the mixture of tuberculosis and HIV. Last year, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated that tuberculosis is the 'disease of poverty'. She said:

It keeps people from working, stifles economic opportunity and tears at the fabric of societies.

It is a disease that does not distinguish between the young and the old. It destroys families and nations.

In 2009, almost 10 million children were orphaned as a result of parental deaths caused by TB. It is a disease that can be passed on as a result of close contact. Imagine being unable to hug or kiss your children or your loved one for fear of infecting them. Imagine living day to day in the fear that you may infect those around you. Imagine the stigma that comes with being infected with TB/HIV. And imagine being unable to access basic medicine and drugs that could prevent this disease.

In our neighbourhood of the world alone we share half of the global tuberculosis burden. While the majority of TB cases are treated successfully, drug-resistant TB and its co-infection with HIV have created a lethal combination in our area of the world, particularly in developing countries. It preys on weakened immune systems, and, according to Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it kills 15 people every hour.

Australia is doing its best in the region to prevent and treat tuberculosis. In Papua New Guinea, we are providing $8 million over four years in support of the health authorities in western province to improve service delivery and treatment to TB patients. As part of this assistance, we are funding World Vision's 'Stop TB in the Western Province' project, raising awareness, training and facilitating TB treatment. We are assisting in Burma, where AusAID co-funds the Three Diseases Fund, which has supported HIV and TB initiatives since 2007. Over this period Australia's assistance has contributed to the registration for treatment of 60,000 new TB patients. In Indonesia, under this government, we cancelled $75 million of Indonesia's foreign debt in return for Indonesia investing $37.5 million in treatment and prevention of TB.

We have to do much to assure people, particularly in Burma, where this particularly toxic mix of HIV and TB is very prevalent, that the Global Fund will continue to have sufficient resources to provide treatment, which our overseas aid and some of the organisations that are working there, like Medecins Sans Frontieres, are almost the exclusive purveyors of, with the Burmese government not being able to provide the kind of health care we would imagine common in this part of the world. Australia is also assisting developing countries like the Solomon Islands, Cambodia, Nepal and Samoa to improve community health services to strengthen their ability to treat and prevent this disease.

We all enter parliament not only to make a difference to the lives of those in our own nation but also to do our part to improve the lives of others abroad. Australia is doing its part to improve the lives of those within our region who suffer from preventable disease such as TB. On 24 March, on World Tuberculosis Day, we should remember those who seek freedom from want, those who live in abject poverty and economic hardship, and those who suffer from preventable disease, and we should re-double our efforts to improve their quality of life. By seeking to improve the lives of others and working with local communities, we are sending forth hope to those who live with this disease. I can only praise the people from Medecins Sans Frontieres who came to visit my office, particularly their chief activist, a Burmese doctor who movingly told me about the role of the Global Fund, which Australia supports, in providing Medecins Sans Frontieres with the ability to act in Burma against this deadly and toxic mixture of HIV and TB. I commend the motion.