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Monday, 18 February 2019
Page: 13783


Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (11:28): I, too, would like to join with my colleagues to commend and congratulate the member for Leichhardt for his constant advocacy on this issue over many, many years. He is keeping it at the forefront of our conversations and keeping a focus on it amongst colleagues here. That is vitally important, particularly given the statistics we've heard during the course of today's discussion. I also want to thank him and commend him for his leadership on this issue. There are others on the other side of the chamber, and on this side, who have also shown leadership on this, but the member for Leichhardt has actually been at the forefront of this and the lead champion. I congratulate and thank him.

I want to also thank the member for Leichhardt for bringing this motion forward because it highlights the work that is being done and what we still need to do to both prevent the spread of TB and cure people from this insidious preventable disease. Because TB is largely non-existent in Australia, many people do not know or remember what the symptoms of TB actually are—and the speech from the member for Macarthur was very useful in reminding us of those symptoms.

This disease has a long history. It was recognised in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance periods, during the 17th and 18th centuries and beyond. With medical science advancing over time, we did have TB on the run for a while. But then the drug-resistant variety of the virus emerged, causing the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency in 1993. While TB is largely wiped out in Australia, in Asia more than 8,000 cases are diagnosed across the continent and archipelago every day. That's not every week, that's not every month; it's 8,000 cases every day.

TB is known as the disease of the poor, spreading through overcrowded neighbourhoods and poorly ventilated homes and workplaces. Importantly, for Australia, it is our closest neighbours to the north who are detecting the largest growth in new cases of TB. The World Health Organization has reported a 32 per cent increase in Papua New Guinea, a 17 per cent increase in both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, a 13 per cent increase in Nepal, a 12 per cent increase in Timor-Leste and a seven per cent increase in Indonesia.

When diagnosed, the treatment regime is intensive, requiring a person to commit to a full six-month daily treatment program. As the member for Macarthur has mentioned, that can last up to three years. For most of us living here in Australia, where we have universal Medicare, completing a health program like this sounds like an easy thing to do. But imagine not having access to world-leading health care or having to make a choice between earning a living and seeking medical treatment. This is the choice that many people in our region affected with TB have to make each and every day. The poverty of many people means that they either do not seek treatment in the first place or discontinue treatment halfway through, usually after starting to feel better. The risk to people who discontinue treatment is the possibility of contracting a more serious drug-resistant strain of TB. The WHO's statistics show that someone who does not seek treatment or discontinues it halfway through will go on to infect 10 to 15 more people over the course of a year.

The prevalence of this insidious disease means we must help our neighbours and we must act now. We must take action now. That's particularly the case in terms of vaccinations but most importantly in terms of transportation of those vaccinations. There are a number of NGOs that are coming up with fabulous, flexible solutions to allow those vaccinations to be transported in non-refrigerated vehicles in little eskies. For anyone who is interested in this disease and supporting this cause, I encourage them to get behind the fundraising for these little eskies that deliver fresh vaccinations to really remote regions.

Last year I met with representatives from Results, who spoke about the need for Australia to be represented at the inaugural UN high-level meeting on TB, held in New York last year. I wrote to the Prime Minister, and he confirmed Australia would be represented. The outcome of that meeting saw a pledge to reach 40 million people with treatment by 2022, a goal to secure $13 billion in annual new funding and a commitment by the US government to increase impact and support countries to reach everyone.

Next month, on 24 March, we will mark World TB Day. This is a day dedicated to raising public awareness and, also, highlighting what actions need to be taken. With a renewed global commitment to act on TB, the theme of this year's World TB Day is 'It's Time'. It definitely is time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.