Standing up for Canberra

Tuberculosis: The Global Health Emergency

Twenty five years ago, the World Health Organization 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 tuberculosis the world’s longest running Global Health Emergency. And the fact that 25 years ago it was declared an emergency and we still have these appalling statistics. Worse than HIV and malaria combined. It’s an absolute shame for everyone in the world that this is still going on. And 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 and causes excessive coughing, high fevers, sweats and weight loss. It’s painful, it’s deadly and it’s contagious, but it’s also preventable.

Tuberculosis is often described as a disease of poverty – something prominent in third world nations without the resources to identify the disease or treat it. While countries including India, South Africa and Indonesia are the most affected, Australia is not immune. I am sure the Member for Solomon will go into detail about how it affects Australia and I also will.

I just want to briefly touch on the fact that when I was posted to India in the mid 1990’s 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. It was common.

And the fact that India, South Africa and Indonesia are the most affected countries in the world. But the fact that we actually have it here in Australia is again a great shame for this nation.

In 2016, The Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control revealed of the nine million new cases of TB around the world each year, about 13,000 of these were in Australia. Those who were born or spent their early years in countries with high rates of the disease are most likely to contract it, but that infection can spread.

Tuberculosis treatment is provided free of charge in Australia for anyone who contracts it. When TB is identified, the state and territory public health systems make sure those who are sick receive appropriate treatment, including antibiotics and hospital care.

Australia is a low-risk country but we are not exempt from this global emergency. That is why the World Health Organisation has identified Australia as one of the countries with the ability to eliminate TB entirely.

Like any other infection, TB is curable with antibiotics. Fifty million deaths worldwide for a disease that is curable, for a disease which is preventable – this is the reality. And this is why it is a great shame that these figures, 1.8 million dying from a disease that is preventable and that is curable is just horrifying in 2018.

Last year in Australia, 52 Australians lost their lives to tuberculosis.

Fifty two lives lost in a first world nation with free, first class healthcare 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 meet on 26 September 2018, it will first 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 upon the Turnbull Government ensure Australia’s representation at the United Nations high-level meeting on tuberculosis in September is at the highest level.

This government must commit to the declaration from the United Nations high-level meeting by increasing resources for tuberculosis programs in Australia as well as towards development of effective tools for diagnosis, treatments and vaccines.

It is estimated unless the world acts immediately, we could be faced with up to 14 million deaths from tuberculosis costing a cumulative 5.5 trillion US dollars.

We need to be part of the solution.

I congratulate the Member for Leichhardt for continuing the conversation on tuberculosis. He has been a long term advocate, for as long as I have been in this place which is 3 terms. I want to acknowledge Members and Senators from both sides for speaking out to help end this Global Health Emergency. 

Again, I encourage the Turnbull Government to make the highest level of representation on this issue at that UNGA September meeting it is vitally important for those 50 million people.