Warren Entsch MP visiting Long Bien District Health Centre in Hanoi

By Warren Entsch MP

I’ve come to Vietnam this week along with six other Federal parliamentarians to see Australian aid at work through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. From what I have seen so far I have to say I am very impressed with the results.

From day one I was encouraged to learn that for the 17,000 cases of malaria currently diagnosed each year in Vietnam, there are only six deaths. This is the kind of ratio we must aspire to globally for tuberculosis (TB) where, for every six cases of TB there is one death.

Why I’m particularly interested in the impact and management of TB in Vietnam is because my electorate of Leichhardt in far north Queensland also borders with the Western Province of Papua New Guinea – a region and country where TB is a significant and serious problem.

In Vietnam, around 17,000 people die every year from TB. That’s 17,000 women, children and men dying from a preventable and curable disease – the incidence of which in Vietnam makes it 12th of the 22 high burden countries for TB in the world.

Vietnam ranks 17th out of 27 for the highest rates of multi drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) – a form of TB resistant to the most commonly used drugs making it much harder and more expensive to treat.

I’m also very concerned about the issue of extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) . Increasingly, we are seeing that without appropriate treatment, TB can morph into more extreme strains strengthening the case for more investment in medical research for better tools to fight the disease.

But how is Vietnam doing in its efforts to reduce TB and how is Australian aid helping?

On Monday Professor Nguyen Viet Nhung, the National TB Control Manager informed us that Vietnam is implementing TB WHO approved treatment across all regions and populations that there is a 90% cure rate for drug sensitive TB. Impressively, Vietnam is also in the world’s top five for cure rates of MDR-TB.

On Tuesday we visited Long Bien District Health Centre for HIVAIDS, which is doing great work on HIV. It’s also ensuring that all people living with HIV seen there are also tested for TB – the leading killer of people living with HIV.

What’s important to realise is that currently nearly 70% of the health spending for TB control and treatment in Vietnam is funded by the Global Fund. (Since 2004 the Global Fund has provided USD $70 million for TB control programs.) The Global Fund also invests $1 billion every year in AIDS, TB and Malaria programs across the Asia Pacific. Clearly the Global Fund represents a sound investment of Australian aid and that’s why we’ve provided a three-year $200 million commitment.

This visit has reinforced to me the value of the Global Fund and its refreshing to see an organisation that is genuinely focused on and measures its success on outcomes rather than just the dollars its spends (and its great that RESULTS has associated itself with such a strong organisation).

But it will take more than just the Global Fund to rid the region of the threat of TB.

Because TB is primarily an airborne disease which respects no borders, and because the Asia Pacific region is home to more than half the global burden of TB, its imperative that there is also regional cooperation to address this killer disease.

That’s why I am proud to be co-convening a meeting of parliamentarians from Australia and the Asia Pacific in Sydney on Monday 31st August and Tuesday 1st September. The meeting will be held alongside the Asia Pacific Region Conference of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the largest regional gathering of its kind on lung health) being held at the same time.

Many of the parliamentarians invited to attend from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Philippines and Japan have also recently joined the Global TB Caucus – an international network of parliamentarians who are committed to the fight against TB. I am delighted that UK Parliamentarian and co chair of the Global TB Caucus, Nick Herbert will be the guest of honour at our gathering of Parliamentarians

I came over here with the expectation that we would be giving direction and practical advice to the Vietnamese health authorities. But the new National Laboratory in Hanoi uses high tech diagnostic equipment such as GeneXpert (funded in part by the Global Fund) to get test results in two hours. And tests for MDR-TB no longer have to be sent to Adelaide (!) but can be tested in Hanoi with a result in about 48 hours.

The Vietnamese Government has also committed by 2030, to put the country within striking distance of living in a TB free environment. The Global Fund is critical to helping achieve this goal and from what I have seen this week, Vietnam is well on its way.

Warren Entsch MP is the Federal Member for Leichhardt in Queensland. He is participating in a delegation of seven Australian Parliamentarians to Vietnam from 28 June to 3 July led by Pacific Friends of the Global Fund. RESULTS CEO Maree Nutt also joined the delegation.