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Seeing red for TB fight

This article on Light Up Red at Manly Town Hall was published on 2 April, 2024 in the Northern Beaches Advocate.

TB campaigners were left disappointed when the Manly Town Hall failed to light up red as promised.

Manly Town Hall at Belgrave Street, Manly, has lit up red for World Tuberculosis Day (24 March) since 2020, with former Mayor Michael Regan and current Mayor Sue Heins both attending previous events.

This year, organiser Lili Koch (main image, second left) gathered once again with supporters of the campaign to raise awareness of tuberculosis (TB) on Sunday, 24 March, outside Manly Town Hall. Among those in attendance was former Manly MP and TB campaigner Dr Peter Macdonald OAM (main image, centre back), who has direct experience in the fight against the deadly disease.

“Over the last 20 years, I’ve been working on and off with an aid organisation in Papua New Guinea [PNG]. So my experience with TB has been in PNG, which has got one of the highest incidences per capita in the world.

“The incidence of TB is a proxy for the integrity of the health system. In other words, if the health system is not intact, as indeed it’s not in Papua New Guinea, TB is allowed to escape the normal controls that we have in other countries.

“TB should be a fairly easy disease to treat. Because it’s a Mycobacterium, and with three or four medicines, over six months, you can cure it. But that means the patient and the health system have got to be committed to that protocol and to that regime,” said Dr Macdonald.

“The Australian Government is very worried about TB coming down into the indigenous populations through the Torres Strait. Multiple drug resistant TB, which is that form of TB that has developed resistance to the usual medications, is increasing in the Western Province, which is the neighbouring border, so to speak, with Northern Australia.

“TB is a fascinating infection. In effect, it behaves like a cancer. It spreads to parts of the body well distant from where it was originally contracted. Most TB comes into the chest through the respiratory system. But it can end up in the spine and up the kidneys, and it becomes pernicious, it is a really horrible disease.

“TB is winnable and it’s through people like Results [Australia], who are trying to raise awareness and getting governments to commit to it. All the research has been done on TB, we know all about the disease. It’s a matter of having health systems that can handle it,” said Dr Macdonald.

TB survivor and Results Australia coordinator Lili Koch said the battle against TB went backwards during COVID but was once again heading in the right direction.

“The only time it went up in the last 20 years is in COVID, 1.6m people died of TB. Every year around 10m people will get sick with TB, and this year we saw 1.3m people die.

“Within two years there was 25 licensed vaccines for COVID, and so far we still only have one for TB. It’s purely about money, and it’s very hard to get money for it because it’s considered a third world disease,” explained Ms Koch.

The small but dedicated group was left deflated however when they lined up in front of Manly Town Hall at sunset for the lights to come on. Instead of lighting up red as in previous years (image above), the town hall lit up green.

A spokesperson for Northern Beaches Council apologised for the failure, blaming it on a miscommunication with a contractor.

“Council has a program of important issues and events marked each year by the lighting of the Manly Town Hall and has been proud to support World Tuberculosis Day for a number of years. Unfortunately, contractor error resulted in the lights not being activated appropriately when they should have this year.

“Council is investigating and will ensure measures are put in place to avoid this occurring again in the future. Council has reached out to organisers to offer our sincere apologies and see if there is an alternative way we can help raise awareness for this important issue,” said the Council spokesperson.

Results Australia is a non-partisan advocacy organisation working to end poverty, with a major focus on diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis (TB). They have been working for over thirty years through a combination of staff-led and grassroots advocacy with parliamentarians, aligned organisations and the media. Results is also the Secretariat of the Australian TB Caucus, a parliamentary friendship group committed to ending TB globally.


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