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Monday, 16 September 2019
Page: 3095


Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (11:55): It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak today on the motion moved by the member for Leichhardt. I congratulate him on his continuing and strenuous efforts to reach a stage where TB can be eradicated. I'd also like to congratulate former senator Lisa Singh, who was the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Tuberculosis Group. She was also a tireless worker in this field, and I do miss her. I'd also like to congratulate the member for Newcastle, the new co-chair, who likewise is determined in her efforts to try and improve our funding for the global fund to try and reach the ultimate eradication of tuberculosis.

When I was a medical student we thought that tuberculosis would be a thing of the past, that it would be something we would see in the anatomy museum—a big caseating lung and cheese-like bone lesions that were typical of disseminated tuberculosis, which caused so much death and misery throughout the world prior to the days of antibiotics. But it is still causing so much misery in the developing world today. We thought that it would be a thing of the past. In fact I have a textbook titled The End of Tuberculosis, printed in the 1960s by the team that led the triple therapy for tuberculosis. We thought it would be eradicated. Sadly, that is not the case. We still have tuberculosis in Australia—much of it from people who have recently emigrated to Australia, but there are occasionally new presentations of tuberculosis caught in Australia. Unfortunately we have the rise of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which can be very difficult to treat and depends on a fairly sophisticated public health policy and public health funding to try and trace carriers and eradicate asymptomatic carriers of tuberculosis.

We know that compliance with drug therapy—particularly in the developing world—is very poor. Treatment can involve three or even four medications for six or 12 months at a time. Particularly in developing countries like Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, et cetera, it's very difficult to maintain treatment for agricultural workers and nomadic workers over those periods of time and to trace carriers. The Holy Grail in tuberculosis treatment will be the development of an immunisation. There is an immunisation at the moment called a BCG immunisation—it's been used for many, many years—but it is not particularly successful. The time really has come when we need a new, comprehensive, very effective vaccine, and a lot of research is going into that. We also need to look at simpler, better drug therapy, where treatment can be for a shorter period of time and involve not so many tablets. Taking 15 or 16 tablets a day for six or 12 months is a big ask for poorly educated people and people who are hard to trace.

Better drug treatments, immunisation and, of course, economic prosperity will improve our tuberculosis management, and I hope to live to see a time where tuberculosis can be eradicated. It's caused a lot of misery in our time. Many famous people have died from tuberculosis. My favourite author, George Orwell, died of complications of tuberculosis. My mother's cousin, Alex Griffiths, who started the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary in the Gold Coast, moved to Queensland because he was diagnosed with tuberculosis during the Second World War. He moved to the warmer climate of Queensland to recover from his tuberculosis. Luckily, around the time that he was diagnosed, triple therapy was being developed and he did recover, although he had severe lung damage from tuberculosis. During his recuperation, he started to feed the birds in the backyard, and that's how the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary started. Many of us remember the trips to Currumbin to visit the bird sanctuary. What we need is sustained funding, and I'd encourage the government to increase its funding to the global fund. I thank the global fund and Results Australia for bringing this to the attention of everyday Australians. I thoroughly commend the bill to the House.