I stand here today as the co-chair of the Australian Tuberculosis Caucus, and I wish to acknowledge my other co-chair, the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite. We are very capably, between the two of us, representing this issue here in this country.
I also acknowledge my colleague and very good friend the Rt Hon. Nick Herbert, the British Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs. Together with the South African health minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Nick is the co-chair of the Global TB Caucus, as well as the co-chair of the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis. He is an example to those of us who would use our parliamentary positions to further the common good, whether it be around the corner, or around the world.
Yesterday Nick met with our parliamentary colleagues in the Australian Tuberculosis Caucus. We are currently a cross-party group of 20 parliamentarians focused on securing Australian support to end tuberculosis as a global epidemic. We are part of both the global caucus and the Asia-Pacific caucus, which I co-chair with my colleague Dr Helen Tan from the Philippines. At the most recent count there were 18 national tuberculosis caucuses, with a combined membership of 2,300 representatives from around 130 countries. It is certainly is a powerful potential for global good that is being facilitated in large part by Nick Herbert.
Most of my colleagues would not know that when I was young my mum spent a year in the Cairns Base Hospital recovering from tuberculosis, but in the modern era I, like Nick, believed this was a disease of the past. In 2005, Nick visited Kenya to see the country's TB and HIV programs and the trip opened his eyes to the scale of the continuing TB epidemic.
Today, TB is the leading cause of death for people with HIV globally. In 2015, tuberculosis killed 1.8 million people, making it the world's greatest infectious disease killer. TB has, most assuredly, not gone away. Nick's own backyard, in London, has about 5,000 cases each year—one of the highest rates of tuberculosis among European capitals. His all-party parliamentary group often focuses on the burden of TB in Africa, so yesterday it was good for us to highlight for him the burden of disease in our region.
While we in Australia may have it under control, the Asia-Pacific bears over 60 per cent of the global burden of tuberculosis. Our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, has the highest rate of tuberculosis infection and the island of Daru in the Western Province, which borders my electorate, has one of the highest rates of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the world.
I was at a delegation in South Africa in 2015 with RESULTS when I met Dr Jennifer Furin from Doctors Without Borders. Her comments on the TB burden in the Western Province were bleak. Dr Furin said:
“I have been working with TB for over 20 years. I have worked in prisons in Russia, in Siberia, and many other high?burden countries and in the most difficult of circumstances therefore nothing generally shocks me.
“However, I was absolutely shocked and felt despair from what I saw in Daru, which was far worse than what I have ever experienced and the TB burden is horrific. Having said that, what is most despairing is the fact that with the right application this situation can be quite easily addressed.”
Australia and Papua New Guinea share goals for increasing tuberculosis detection and treatment completion rates. I am pleased to say that we have backed this commitment with welcome financial support.
In 2015, Minister Bishop announced additional funding for tuberculosis control in PNG, taking Australia's assistance covering both the Western Province and National Capital District to $60 million over seven years. This commitment for funding concludes in 2017. Better tuberculosis identification and treatment in PNG will address the huge avoidable human and economic costs of the disease in that country since many of those who suffer from TB are of working age, and it will reduce the number of Papua New Guineans driven to seek treatment in Australia.
In the long-term, Australia's commitment to the development of TB services in the Western Province and in Port Moresby will be bolstered by the development of stronger health systems in the entire country and will support sustainable local tuberculosis control infrastructure.
I would like to leave it at this point in time. I reserve my right to speak at the conclusion of the next speaker. [Debate interrupted]
Continuing from my earlier contribution, helping to drive stronger health systems on the ground in the Treaty Villages of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea is the Cairns-based Reef and Rainforest Research Centre.
In December, I welcomed news that the Australian government has increased its support for the Building Resilience in Treaty Villages project. Managed by the RRRC, the project involves the recruitment and training of multiskilled community rangers to work in construction, sanitation, first aid and leadership.
Thanks to an initial $1.8 million from the Australian government in 2014, the pilot in four Treaty Villages saw 52 community rangers, including 12 women, trained up.
It is a fabulous program, and the rangers have now used their skills to install more than 1.5 million litres of reliable, clean potable water storage, build eight new reinforced capped-and-sealed groundwater wells, provide emergency medical assistance on more than 100 occasions, including lifesaving first aid, transportation and childbirth support, and complete a top-down refurbishment of Mabaduan village's hospital outpost.
The pilot has now been extended through another $400,000 commitment in 2016-17. Subject to successful completion, the Australian government will support its phasing-up, thereby reaching all Treaty Villages by 2019-20. This new program means that there will be another group of locals trained up as rangers in this program.
All of this is designed to establish a platform for each of these communities that will at last see delivery of appropriate health services, allowing us to meet the challenge of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases while also giving ownership of the solution to local communities.
This guarantees buy-in by the community and a sense of ownership from the community, and this, in my view, will guarantee its success. I also believe that this model is transportable into other areas of high disadvantage, and I will be working with the minister to promote this.
Since 2012, Australia has also supported medical research and development into neglected diseases, including tuberculosis. Poverty-related illness affects over a billion people worldwide and it results in six million deaths each year.
Most people who suffer from these neglected diseases cannot pay the market price for health products, and the lack of market demand to encourage investment in neglected diseases means that product development is largely the responsibility of not-for-profit product development partnerships that combine industry expertise and public and philanthropic funding.
Government backing of research and development can have an enormous impact, as new products developed from Australian-supported TB research show. For instance, Australian investment in the PDP Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND, has helped to develop a GeneXpert machine, which has allowed TB infections to be confirmed within a matter of hours rather than weeks.
FIND is now working with Cepheid on the manufacture and launch of a new machine named the Omni. This is a portable diagnostic system that will run for eight hours on a solar-rechargeable battery. It is about the size of a milkshake maker, so it is very transportable.
Since 2015 Australia has provided a total of $30 million in funding for three PDPs: FIND, the TB Alliance and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. Sustained support for this kind of medical research is essential, as the benefits of R&D can take years to emerge fully. With the current PDP program concluding in 2017, the government will need to include a renewed commitment to medical R&D, including further PDP investments, in the 2017-18 budget.
An appropriate goal for medical research and funding would be to increase R&D support to one per cent, or $60 million, of the overall aid program by 2020-21. Within this total, Australia should make a commitment of $15 million a year to the PDP program for the next three years to increase prospects for new diagnostics and treatments and also to allow for additional PDP projects, such as work being done to develop a TB vaccine.
An increased commitment to R&D could also incorporate funding from the new Regional Health Security Partnership Fund, which Minister Bishop announced in June 2016.
World TB Day is fast approaching, and on 21 March the Australian TB Caucus will be hosting a breakfast here in the parliament, to which all of our colleagues will be invited. At this event we will be celebrating these Australian investments made under the leadership of Minister Bishop, in TB prevention and treatment in PNG and in the development of innovative drugs and diagnostics for TB.
With tuberculosis, more so than in almost any other disease, helping others is helping ourselves.