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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7842


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (11:37): I second the motion. I am pleased to support my friend, the member for Leichhardt, and thank him for putting up this motion once again, and for his commitment and passion for finding a cure for tuberculosis.

Is tuberculosis a health issue or is it a social disease? The evidence shows that there's a clear link between TB and inequality. Across the world, the poorest households and some of the most marginalised individuals suffer the highest levels of infectious diseases. And when the poor try to access health care, it's no surprise that they become poorer as a result of the financial strain of the treatment. This medical poverty trap can be seen across those individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to tuberculosis—for example, indigenous peoples around the world suffer from TB at a rate of up to 270 times that of non-indigenous populations. Migrants, the homeless, prisoners and people living with HIV are also especially vulnerable to tuberculosis. Sadly, almost all cases of TB today are both preventable and treatable, and yet it remains a common disease in many parts of the world. As the member for Leichhardt mentioned, it's all too common in our region, particularly on our doorstep in countries like Papua New Guinea.

Nearly 10.5 million people will contract the disease this year, and around 1.7 million of those will die. It's part of a quiet crisis. We don't often see TB in the headlines, and yet the devastation it causes dwarfs that of other infectious diseases. TB is the world's longest-running global health emergency, having been responsible for 50 million deaths since it was declared an emergency in 1993 by the World Health Organization—50 million people have died from what should be a preventable disease. Despite this, the United States government, the largest donor in the fight against tuberculosis, is rapidly scaling back their overseas aid, slashing billions of dollars from the global health and humanitarian aid budget.

TB, as a disease, has always suffered from neglect and a lack of urgency, and this is reflected in the chronic underinvestment in TB care and control in most high-burden countries. India, South Africa and Indonesia are suffering the biggest impacts of this social disease. It's the inequality of access to adequate health services, including fast diagnosis and effective medicines, that means that it is rampant in these countries and others. And yet it is also the lack of nutrition, poor sanitation and unsafe work environments that combine to contribute to TB in 2018.

The World Health Organization is calling for social support and poverty-alleviation strategies for people with TB. This is to help reduce the hidden costs of treatment, reduce stigma and increase TB prevention. Studies have shown that increasing financial pressures associated with TB treatment means that the patient in the household was more likely to abandon treatment, fail treatment or die. Medicines are needed in the crucial fight against tuberculosis and, yet, while they will help win battles, additional financial and social support is required to see that we do win the war against tuberculosis.

We're now moving into a new era of TB treatment, where community based care is playing a more important role, and good work has already been done. TB treatment has saved the lives of 53 million people around the world from 2000 to 2016. Australia has certainly been one of those countries that has made a fair contribution, by supporting global actions to reduce TB, including through support for TB programs in Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and other Indo-Pacific health security initiatives. I was fortunate, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, to actually open the TB clinic in Daru in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, and it's great to see that that facility is not only providing some of those prevention measures but also treating severe cases of tuberculosis.

The United Nations General Assembly is holding the first ever high-level TB meeting on 26 September this year in its 73rd session, and I want to thank the member for Leichhardt for putting this on the agenda in his time at the UN. We call on the government to ensure that Australia's representation at the meeting on tuberculosis is at the highest level possible. We also need a true commitment to the declaration from the UN at the high-level meeting to be shown by increasing resources for TB programs in Australia and within our region.