First of all, I would like to commend the member for Ryan for her ongoing advocacy on this issue. World TB Day aims to build public awareness that tuberculosis remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of nearly 1.5 million people each year, mostly in developing countries.
Our neighbour PNG, which lies within just four kilometres of the Australian islands of Saibai and Boigu, has the highest burden of TB in the Pacific region. While it is difficult to estimate the rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis, it is considered to be endemic in PNG. Of approximately 23,000 cases reported in 2013, sadly, 28 per cent are people under the age of 15. In fact, my long interest in tuberculosis stems from 2010, when nine-year-old Violet Ausi was brought on an eight-hour dinghy trip from Daru to Australia by her father to get treatment that she could not get in Papua New Guinea.
Ignoring this problem or hoping it will go away is just not an option. Yesterday, I was pleased to host an event with Policy Cures and Results International to raise awareness of this killer disease. I would like to mention the courageous speech that was given by a young Filipino girl, Louie Zepeda, who was 25 years old and working as an architect in Manila when she contracted multidrug-resistant tuberculosis meningitis. Louie told us of her 24-month, gruelling treatment, where she swallowed over 14,000 pieces of medication and endured terrible side effects, including paralysis, Parkinson's symptoms, depression and the prospect of infertility. Louie was eventually cured, but the toxic treatment left her blind. In her words, she felt 'worthless'. It took a lot of soul-searching for her to find a new purpose in life, but she is now a qualified architect, she has a master's in disability policy, she is married, she has a daughter called Zoe and she is a passionate advocate for tuberculosis patients. Her story really struck home. Not only did I learn that tuberculosis is not just a disease of the lungs but Louie's story showed how tuberculosis can strike healthy, active, professional people and change their lives forever. In her case, it was a disease of the brain which affected her optic nerves and caused her blindness.
TB is not just a social tragedy; it is also an economic tragedy. That event with Louie was followed by last night's launch of the Australasian TB Forum here in parliament. I would like to thank Dr Stenard Hiasihri, from Western Province, for his insights into being a doctor in PNG and treating tuberculosis patients. His comment that tuberculosis is 'Ebola in slow motion' really said it all. His experiences in having to diagnose patients using out-of-date technologies and then struggling to administer toxic drugs for anywhere between six months and two years reinforces that we must get effective vaccines, better diagnostics and more-efficient treatment. To that end, it is very welcome news that our foreign minister has pledged $30 million over three years to help bring new diagnostic tests and drugs to the market to tackle drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria.
I have spoken many times in this place about the failure of the previous system, where millions of dollars were thrown at this problem with no accountability and no focus on outcomes. This government's direction is a breath of fresh air. At a local level, I have been working with Sheriden Morris from the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre on a $1.85 million pilot project that will establish four service platforms in key villages along the Western Province coastline of Papua New Guinea. This project will be up and running by the end of this month, focusing on water and food security, sanitation, and a secure base for community health workers. I am looking forward to continuing to advocate for this project so that stage 2 can get underway sooner rather than later.
To conclude, the theme for World Tuberculosis Day in 2015 is 'Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone'. It is ambitious, but it has to be. As Dr Hiasihri and Louie Zepeda said yesterday: 'Imagine our children growing up in a world without tuberculosis.'