The Australian Government needs to commit $450 million to fighting tuberculosis, say Results International (Australia) and Pacific Friends of Global Health, as the global death toll rises for the first time in a decade while COVID-battered regional health systems struggle to respond to the growing threat.
“Before COVID-19, TB was the deadliest infectious disease in the world, and will likely reclaim that title again,” said Negaya Chorley, chief executive of aid group Results International (Australia). “In 2020, TB killed 1.5 million people up from 1.4 million in 2019, the first time we’ve seen deaths rise in a decade.”
TB is caused by a bacteria that spreads through the lungs, causing a bloody cough, and if untreated, a painful death. After almost two decades of progress, the global response to TB has reversed as COVID-19 puts hospitals, health clinics and medical workers under extreme strain.
A complicating factor for TB is that treatment requires close management. Misused medication, wrong dosages, and unfinished courses can all lead to the bacteria becoming resistant.
“TB is preventable and curable but without proper treatment, TB will become multi-drug resistant,” said Ms Chorley. “Leaving TB undetected, untreated, and unmanaged in our region risks a health challenge becoming an unstoppable epidemic.”
Two-thirds of the global TB burden is in the Asia-Pacific region, for both TB and multi-drug resistant TB. But in 2020 the region recorded an 84% drop in detection – meaning people are likely still contracting the disease but they’re not getting treatment.
In Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, TB is endemic and case numbers have been steadily rising. Daru, an island of PNG only a few kilometres from Australia, hosts one of the world’s highest rates of drug resistant TB.
Australian work, supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is helping the fight against TB across PNG and the region, but progress is fragile.
“We can resume progress towards stopping TB or see it re-emerge, in new and dangerous forms,” said Pacific Friends of Global Health Chair Professor Brendan Crabb AC. “We know how to fight this disease – in countries where the Global Fund invests, TB deaths have been reduced by a third.”
The global TB response is underfunded by at least US$9 billion. More than half the money pledged by world leaders to fight the epidemic at the UN in 2018 has not been delivered.
Results Australia and Pacific Friends of Global Health say ahead of the Federal Election both major parties should lift their 2019 pledge of $242 million at the Sixth Replenishment of the Global Fund to $450 million at the upcoming Seventh Replenishment. This increase in funding will help give the world a fighting chance to get progress back on track.
The Global Fund provided 77% of all international financing for tuberculosis in 2020. That same year, 4.7 million people were treated for the disease in Global Fund-supported countries, with an 85% treatment success rate. Importantly, every US$1 contributed to the Global Fund, US$13 is invested in the Indo-Pacific region, as the fund targets areas most in need.
“To fight TB on our doorstep, Australia should lift its commitment to the Global Fund by pledging $450 million,” said Professor Crabb.