MR ENTSCH: TB is a disease that most people thought was in the past or was isolated to small pockets of some impoverished countries.
TB is one of the oldest human diseases and has been identified in Egyptian mummies.
I, for one, also assumed that the disease was no longer an issue, after my mum actually spent 12 months in hospital in 1962.
I thought it was a disease that was well and truly in the past.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that TB is the largest infectious disease killer in the world, with 60 per cent of that burden in our Asia-Pacific region.
Tuberculosis was declared an emergency in 1993 by the World Health Organization.
It causes more deaths than any other infectious disease. In 2016 more than 10.4 million people were infected with tuberculosis.
Of those, 1.7 million people actually died.
One of the great challenges in dealing with TB is the complexity of the treatment.
Most of us in Australia at some stage of our life would have received the TB vaccine and would have a scar to prove it on our upper arm.
I say to you all: don’t feel protected. It’s not worth a cupful of cold water, to be honest.
The current vaccine was developed in 1921.
It is totally ineffective, and really it is only a very small cohort of children under the age of five who can expect any sort of protection from it.
With the new strains of TB, there’s just no way in the world that this can be seen as a way of preventing the disease.
However, there have been some very significant advances in diagnostics and treatment of TB.
In treatment, through the fantastic work of the TB Alliance, under the leadership of Mel Spigelman and his team, we’re now trialling treating patients with drug-resistant TB with four tablets per day and no injections for only six months.
Prior to that, it was 25 tablets a day and two injections for up to two years.
Little wonder the disease has spread and, of course, morphed into even stronger strains.
They’re now working on a treatment that will see drug-resistant tuberculosis cured with one tablet in three months.
There’s still work to be done, of course, in making that happen.
I’d like to congratulate James Cook University in Cairns.
Through the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, they have established a research group, led by Professor Lewis Schofield, who are focusing on the development of a TB vaccine.
There is not a contagious disease that has ever been cured without a vaccine, and so that really is the Holy Grail.
Nobody should die of TB. It’s a disease that has been neglected and ignored for far too long.
This disease can be cured, but more needs to be done.
Australia has supported global actions to reduce TB.
This includes contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
It also includes our ongoing support for TB programs in Papua New Guinea and Kiribati, our support of the Indo-Pacific health security initiatives, and our support of product development partnerships and research grants.
The United Nations has convened its first ever high-level meeting on tuberculosis, due to take place next month in New York.
The high-level meeting is the biggest and best opportunity to raise the political priority of tuberculosis.
We must ensure that Australia has very senior representation at the United Nations high-level meeting.
We must be the ones that lead the charge on this, and not leave it up to others. It’s the most significant political meeting that has ever been held on TB, and one I’m very proud to have played a part in making a reality during my three-month secondment to United Nations last year.
This is a golden opportunity for Australia to stand up and be counted, and to lead the charge in the fight against TB.
We’re not talking about a disease in a faraway land; TB is already on our doorstep, with our closest neighbours, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, recognised as very high-burden countries, as are many other small countries in the Pacific region.
Finally, I would like to thank the countless number of people, and they know who they are, for their ongoing support, guidance and advice to ensure that together we can rid the world of this insidious disease once and for all.