Standing up for Canberra

Private Members Motion: Tuberculosis

I too would like to join with my colleagues to commend and congratulate the Member for Leichhardt

for his constant, his advocacy on this issue for many, many years.

He is keeping it at the forefront of our conversations; he is keeping a focus on it amongst colleagues here and 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’s others on the other side of the chamber and this side, who have been showing leadership on this, but the Member for Leichhardt has actually been at the forefront of this and the champion, the lead champion and I congratulate and thank him.

Now I want to also thank the member 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 to 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.  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 Organisation to declare a global health emergency in 1993. 

While TB is largely wiped out in Australia, in our region, 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 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 Organisation has reported a 32 percent increase in Papua New Guinea, a 17 percent increases in both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, a 13 percent increase in Nepal, a 12 percent increase in Timor Leste and a 7 percent increase in Indonesia.

When diagnosed, the treatment regime is intensive requiring the person to commit to a full six-month daily treatment program, and as the Member for Macarthur has mentioned, that could last up to three years.

For most of us living here in Australia –where we have universal Medicare – completing a health program like this 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 or 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 they either do not seek treatment in the first place, or they discontinue treatment half way through – usually after starting to feel better.

Now the risk to people who actually 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 half way through will go on to infect between 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. And that’s particularly the case in terms of vaccinations but most importantly in terms of transportation of those vaccinations.

There’s a number of NGO’s that are coming up with really fabulous flexible solutions to allow those vaccinations to be transported in non-refrigerated vehicles in little eskies. And so for anyone who is interested in this disease and supporting this cause, I do encourage you to get behind the fundraising for these little eskies that deliver these fresh vaccinations in 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 and 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; a commitment by the US Government to increase impact and support countries to reach everyone. Now next month on the 24th of March, we will mark World TB Day. 

This is a day dedicated to raising public awareness and also highlighting what actions we need to be taking.

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.