Louisa Wall MP, NZ, Blessi Kumar and Senator Lisa Singh
BY SENATOR LISA SINGH AND MATT THISTLETHWAITE MP
Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis (TB) are on the march through some of our closest neighbours in the Asia-Pacific, including Papua New Guinea.
Aid funding from Australia to research and develop new treatments should be urgently directed to the disease as current therapies drug regimens are lengthy, toxic, expensive and only about 50 per cent effective.
A meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of the Global TB Caucus taking place in the margins of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Asia-Pacific regional conference in Sydney has heard TB still kills 1.5 million people a year and disproportionately affects developing countries.
In 2013 there were 32,000 cases of TB in Papua New Guinea and 2800 people died.
However, despite the growing need chronic underinvestment in TB research and development (R&D) means that the pipeline for new drugs is sparse, with few new treatments in development.
Discussions at the meeting further highlighted the fact that the fight against TB in the Asia-Pacific was particularly critical for the region’s HIV sufferers.
People living with HIV are 26 to 31 times more likely to develop active TB disease than people without HIV. Approximately 25 per cent of deaths among HIV-positive people are due to TB.
But because TB predominantly affects patients in developing countries who have a limited ability to pay for medication there is little financial incentive for the private sector to invest in R&D for new TB drugs.
As the largest development aid donor in the Pacific region, Australia must work seriously with our developing neighbours like Papua New Guinea to stop the spread of TB in its tracks.