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Writing the final chapter in the fight to end TB

  • 24 Mar 2024

Man looking at a chest x-ray against a window light.

Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb and Results International (Australia) CEO Negaya Chorley write about the urgent need for global action and investment to effectively combat tuberculosis on World TB Day 24 March for The Sunday Telegraph.

Tuberculosis has long been preventable and treatable. Yet, it remains the top infectious disease killer in human history, currently causing 1.3 million deaths a year.

Once a terrible scourge everywhere, TB has been largely defeated in high income countries. But huge slabs of the world’s population have been left behind.

Incomprehensible to many in Australia, TB continues to ravage many of our neighbours. The alarming rates of multi-drug resistant TB on the island of Daru in PNG’s Western Province, and now in Port Moresby, stand as a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive responses.

Our colleagues and teams have seen people die from TB – it’s an awful, painful death that can involve coughing up blood as the lungs are attacked by the bacteria.

Getting access to testing and treatment can also be arduous, taking people in parts of PNG, for example, two hours by road or boat to their nearest TB clinic.

Just with COVID-19, another airborne killer, we’ve learnt that you can drastically reduce deaths and infections when you have the global funding and willpower behind it. The same concerted effort must be applied to end TB.

As experience in Australia and other rich countries has shown, mass TB screening and treatment programs of the 1950s, together with current tests and treatments can be used to effectively eliminate TB.

Even better tools, including newer rapid tests, shorter treatments and more effective vaccines are on the way.

Australian taxpayer dollars are working. The health prospects of entire communities in Asia and the Pacific can turn around with the help of our country’s investments in TB research and programs that train health workers to screen, treat and prevent TB. Work is under way in Indonesia, PNG and Kiribati.

For TB, the investment needed is minuscule compared to the enormity of the human health, security and economic returns. It’s the best bang for buck there is.

This opinion piece was initially published in the print version of The Sunday Telegraph titled: This is How You Vanquish a Killer