World Tuberculosis Day

Terri spoke about World Tuberculosis Day in March 2015.

"Over two billion people are currently infected with the tuberculosis bacteria. Not everyone who is exposed to tuberculosis will get sick, because most healthy people are able to fight off the bacteria. But people with compromised immune systems, such as people who are undernourished, have diabetes or are living with HIV, have a much higher risk of developing active tuberculosis."

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (18:10): Like the member for Leichhardt, I acknowledge World Tuberculosis Day, which is today, as a reminder that tuberculosis, the most prevalent airborne disease, infected approximately nine million people and took 1.5 million lives in 2013. I also note the member for Leichhardt's advocacy in respect of tuberculosis. I am aware that a member of the school community from my old high school, which is in the member for Leichhardt's electorate, has been directly affected by tuberculosis, and there are reports of more being tested today. So my thoughts are with those members of the community in Far North Queensland who are facing tuberculosis—a disease that this day marks as an important reminder that we need to eradicate tuberculosis around the world.

Over two billion people are currently infected with the tuberculosis bacteria. Not everyone who is exposed to tuberculosis will get sick, because most healthy people are able to fight off the bacteria. But people with compromised immune systems, such as people who are undernourished, have diabetes or are living with HIV, have a much higher risk of developing active tuberculosis. In some cases, people do not respond to treatment because they have a strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to antibiotics. When tuberculosis is resistant to two or more types of antibiotics, it is referred to as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. This is an issue that a number of people are grappling with, and of course amongst those people I pay tribute to the medical professionals, health professionals and administrators in Queensland's public health system who, among many other people in the world, are facing this challenge.

About 480,000 people are estimated to have multidrug-resistant tuberculosis globally, and this number is increasing; it increased from 450,000 in the preceding year. Clearly, significant action is required to face the global epidemic of tuberculosis and to deal with the challenges posed by multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. That is why when Results International visited me in this parliament very recently, Maree Nutt of Results and her colleagues spoke to me about the importance of taking real action to combat tuberculosis by doing things like investing in research and development to combat tuberculosis. You cannot rein in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis without improved drugs, improved diagnostics and improved vaccines. A lack of investment in research and development can result in unnecessary suffering and death. So donors and implementing countries must increase funding at different stages from basic research to clinical trials, because I am told there is a $1.3 billion annual gap in funding for new tools to stop the spread of tuberculosis. Of course, current tuberculosis programs require improvement. I am informed that more can be done to mitigate the spread of drug resistance by using current tools more effectively. I am also informed that once someone is on treatment they stop being infectious. This is really important because as the member for Ryan, the mover of this motion, said: a person who is infectious would infect on average 10 to 15 other people. So, clearly, it is really important that we reach all people with tuberculosis to ensure that the infectiousness is curbed and, in turn, curbing infectiousness will curb drug resistance. That means, like everything, that resources are needed, and those resources need to be appropriate—at a level that can make sure that everyone is reached. That means necessarily increasing political support and money for national tuberculosis programs. Worldwide, I am told, tuberculosis detection and treatment programs are underfunded by US$2 billion per year. That is a significant challenge for countries around the world as they grapple with this epidemic.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has supported 12.3 million people to receive tuberculosis treatment, and eight million of those have been in the Asia-Pacific region—in our region. Recently, the global fund reported that it has received US$2 billion in project proposals globally that meet its criteria but that cannot be funded from existing resources. That means that funding commitments need to be made. Like the other speakers in this debate, I do welcome the government's announcement yesterday that they will provide $30 million over three years to aid those effected by tuberculosis and malaria—although I would note that a number of organisations have raised concerns with me about aid cuts more generally, and that is an issue that needs to be addressed.

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