This Sunday 24 March is World TB Day. The day in 1882 that Dr Robert Koch discovered the TB bacillus. A discovery that has led to over 100 years of diagnosis, treatment and research aimed at ending TB.

I am delighted to represent the Australian TB Caucus, a bipartisan parliamentary group who believe, as Australians and parliamentarians, that we have the responsibility, as well as the ability, to drive change at the political level to meet the challenge of ending the TB epidemic. 

Last year the Australian TB Caucus advocated for a strong commitment from Australia at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB held in New York. 

The Meeting’s Declaration was a good starting point in the global fight against TB, while a statement made by Foreign Minister Payne at the Meeting reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to that fight

World TB Day builds public awareness of the tuberculosis disease that is still an epidemic in much of the world. TB causes the deaths of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year, mostly in developing countries. It remains the world’s biggest infectious disease killer.

2019 marks 26 years since Tuberculosis was declared a global health emergency. And yet, at least 1.7 million people died from TB last year – more than HIV and Malaria combined. 

Although 1200 or more people in Australia are treated for TB each year and there are an estimated one million Australians with a dormant TB infection, we often forget that it is still a problem. 

Every year approximately 100 million people globally are infected with TB, eight million develop active or infectious TB, and two million die.

TB is a clear and present danger to population health in our closest regional neighbours of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. It continues to be widespread and deadly in many Asia-Pacific countries, including Timor Leste, Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Marshall Islands.

According to the World Health Organisation, in 2017 62 per cent of the world’s new TB cases occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, where five million people fall ill each year.  

Papua New Guinea had one of the highest rates of TB infection in the Pacific in 2016, with an estimated 35,000 total cases – including 2,000 drug-resistant cases.

Penny Wong, Labor’s Shadow Foreign Minister made clear last week that increasing Australia’s support of our neighbours in the Pacific will be a priority for Labor.

Labor believes in a deep and comprehensive partnership with Pacific nations in which Australia is a responsible and constructive partner, a partnership that will not come at the expense of our key partners in South and Southeast Asia.

Three years ago, Australia joined countries around the world in committing to the Sustainable Development Goals and work together on ending TB by 2030.

Australia committed to “leave no one behind” – but at current rates of progress, we will not end TB for more than 160 years – at the earliest.

Already, five per cent of global TB cases are drug-resistant. Without swift action, drug-resistant TB will claim the lives of 40 million people in our region over the next 35 years, and significantly drive down economic growth. 

According to Médecins Sans Frontières’ ‘Access Campaign’, over the course of their treatment a person with multi drug-resistant tuberculosis typically swallows up to 14,600 pills & endures 240 painful injections. 

And because so many people in the world with TB remain undiagnosed or are missed by health systems, 3.6 million to be precise, the infection is likely to continue to spread to others if not diagnosed on time.

That is why we desperately need an effective vaccine against TB. As has been proven for other diseases such as smallpox and polio, prevention through vaccination would be the most cost-effective tool for ending TB as an epidemic. A new vaccine could be available within 10 years if appropriate research and development is supported.

World TB Day 2019’s theme in 2019 is “It's time….to keep the promise.”

The promises made by the global community at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB last September included a commitment by Australia to accelerate action towards ending TB as an epidemic, through increased efforts and leadership on research and development, prevention, testing and treatment. 

The Global Fund replenishment conference this October in Paris provides Australia with the platform to keep its promise. 

For World TB Day, the Australian TB Caucus is advocating that the Australian federal government deliver its share of global TB targets and increase its pledge to the Global Fund.

In addition to this, the Australian TB Caucus is also asking the government to consider contributing 0.1 per cent of Australia’s annual spending on Research and Development towards the development of new drugs and vaccines to combat TB.

It’s time to do our part to be leaders in our fields of science, medicine and diplomacy to help end this epidemic. Every dollar spent in TB returns a benefit throughout society. 

I want to applaud the determination of RESULTS International, and RESULTS Australia who work so hard on this fight, providing the Australian TB Caucus’ secretariat and with whom I have engaged very closely on this and other issues related to their efforts to end poverty.

I look forward to the Australian TB Caucus continuing to do everything possible to raise the profile of TB in the Australian parliament and advocate for this cause in our region, in the hope of ensuring we can one day regard TB as a disease of the past.