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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7844

Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (11:48): Twenty five years ago the World Health Organisation declared tuberculosis a global emergency. Since then, this disease has been responsible for 50 million deaths across the world. Last year, 1.8 million people died from it, more than from HIV and malaria combined. This makes TB the world's longest-running global health emergency. The fact that 25 years ago it was declared an emergency and we still have these appalling statistics—worse than HIV and malaria combined—is a shame for everyone in the world, particularly for a country that prides itself on playing a very active role in international citizenry.

TB is an infectious disease that affects the lungs, causing excessive coughing, high fevers, sweats and weight loss. It's painful, it's deadly and it's contagious, but it's also preventable. TB is often described as a disease of poverty, something prominent in Third World nations without the resources to identify the disease or treat the disease. While countries such as India, South Africa and Indonesia are the most affected, Australia is not immune. I'm sure the member for Solomon, who is in the chamber, will go into detail about how it affects Australia. But I briefly want to touch on the fact that when I was posted to India in the mid-1990s it was a disease you could see on the streets every day, particularly when you went to impoverished areas on the outskirts of the major cities. It was prevalent, it was obvious and it was common. India, South Africa and Indonesia are the most affected countries in the world, but the fact that we have it here in Australia is a great shame for this nation.

In 2016, the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control revealed that of the nine million new cases of TB around the world each year, about 13,000 were in Australia. Those who are born or who spend their early years in countries with high rates of the disease are likely to contract it, but that infection can spread. TB treatment is free in Australia for anyone who contracts it. When TB is identified, the state and territory public health systems make sure those who seek it receive appropriate treatment, including antibiotics and hospital care. Australia is a low-risk country but it is not exempt from this global emergency, and that is why the World Health Organization has identified Australia as one of the countries with the ability to eliminate TB entirely. Like any other infection, TB is curable with antibiotics. This is the reality and this is why it's a great shame that 1.8 million people die from a disease that is preventable and curable. It's just horrifying to think this is happening in 2018.

Last year in Australia, 52 Australians lost their lives—that is, 52 lives lost in a First World nation with free first-class health care—to a preventable, treatable and curable disease 25 years after it was declared a global health emergency. It is the responsibility of every government with the ability to help to do so. Australia must join the world in recognising TB as a public health priority. When the United Nations General Assembly meets on 26 September, it will hold the first high-level meeting on tuberculosis. This is an essential step in the right direction to addressing TB throughout the world. Labor calls on the Turnbull government and those opposite to ensure Australia's representation at this UN meeting at the highest level. This government must commit to the declaration from the UN by increasing resources for TB programs in Australia as well as towards development of effective tools for diagnosis, for treatments and for vaccines. It is estimated that unless the world acts immediately, we could be faced with 14 million deaths from TB, costing a cumulative US$5.5 trillion. We need to be part of the solution.

I congratulate the member for Leichhardt for continuing the conversation on TB. He has been a long-term advocate for as long as I have been in this place, which is three terms. I want to acknowledge members and senators from both sides for speaking out to help end this global health emergency, and I encourage the Turnbull government to make the highest-level representation on this issue at that September meeting of the UN. It is vitally important for those millions of people.