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Australia to help Pacific neighbours fight tuberculosis

Australia will help its Asian and Pacific neighbours fight tuberculosis to stop its spread and support peace and stability in the region.

Roughly every 20 seconds, someone dies from tuberculosis, making it one of the deadliest diseases in the world.

Though Australia's rates of tuberculosis are extremely low, most of its global burden is borne by close neighbours.

It has reached crisis levels for many countries in Asia and the Pacific and remains a threat in Australia, especially after disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led tuberculosis deaths to rise for the first time in more than a decade.

However, tuberculosis is curable and trends in deaths have started to reverse as an increase in diagnosis in the Philippines, PNG, Indonesia, Vietnam, Timor-Leste and Cambodia has allowed more people to seek treatment.

A community health worker dispenses medicine at a TB clinic in PNG.
TB is at crisis levels in many countries in Asia and the Pacific and remains a threat in Australia. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

But funding for essential services has been down since 2019 and is reaching less than half its global target.

Additionally, drug-resistant tuberculosis has become a major threat in the area, which means more support will be needed for a new generation of treatments.

Results International (Australia) chief executive Negaya Chorley says eliminating tuberculosis is entirely possible with improved support.

"The progress made in Asia and the Pacific in just one year proves that dedicated resources and funding, including from Australia, is paying off," she said.

"The investments and efforts made today will dictate whether TB can end by 2030, meeting this goal is within reach, and the governments of today, including Australia, can be part of this history-making feat."

"When you are fighting an epidemic and one of the biggest diseases of poverty, standing still is not an option."

The federal government announced on Sunday it would support tuberculosis efforts in the region by investing $17 million in the Global Alliance for Tuberculosis, helping the organisation develop more effective treatments - with a focus on drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the new funding was a reaffirmation the government was committed to ending tuberculosis.

"Improving the health and wellbeing of communities in Southeast Asia and the Pacific is central to supporting a peaceful, stable and prosperous region," she said.

The alliance will help governments roll out these new treatments in areas including Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.

For every dollar invested in tuberculosis research and responses, a return of $40 will be realised by 2050, according to Results International.

There have also been some cases of tuberculosis in South Australia's Aboriginal communities since May 2022, and the state government is leading a public health response with local communities to facilitate testing and treatment.

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Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905