Report on tuberculosis uncovers widespread impact of epidemic on children in Papua New Guinea

Globally, more than 140,000 children die each year and one million become sick from tuberculosis.

Over the past three years, tuberculosis (TB) has killed 9,000 people in Papua New Guinea (PNG), with children accounting for 26 per cent of detected cases, according to a new report released today by ChildFund Australia.

The report, written by award-winning journalist Jo Chandler, uncovers the full impact of the TB epidemic on one of Australia’s closest neighbours, including its youngest victims. With some of the worst human development indicators globally, PNG is struggling to manage one of the highest TB prevalence rates in the world.

Calling for a coordinated and urgent response, the report highlights the extreme disparity between conditions for children and families in PNG versus a developed country like Australia: 50 years ago, TB vanished from the wealthy world, yet today it is killing thousands of children in PNG and leaving others with disabling conditions, including lifelong brain damage.

“Tuberculosis is an entirely preventable and curable disease,” says ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence. “There can be few more challenging and imperative goals in the field of child health than to beat the cruel scourge of tuberculosis.”

Mr Spence adds: “While we continue to urge that leaders find the will, resources and strategies to win the war, ChildFund is equipping communities at the frontline with the means to win their battles, to save lives and livelihoods, and protect children’s futures.”


The report details the extent of the epidemic in PNG, the devastating impact on children and families, and the urgent response needed to end what is a terrible but treatable disease. Key findings include:

·         Almost 6.2 million cases – two-thirds of the global TB burden – are estimated to occur in the Asia-Pacific.

·         In PNG alone, 9,000 people have died from TB over the past three years. By comparison, the Ebola virus, which galvanised such international fear and concern, killed 11,300 people globally in the same period.

·         In 2014, TB killed 1.5 million people, including 140,000 children, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Of the 9.6 million people estimated to have fallen ill with the disease in 2014, one million were children.

·         Children account for 26 per cent of detected TB cases in PNG but this is likely to be just a fraction of the real story. In PNG there are formidable challenges to the diagnosis and treatment of paediatric cases, and children are particularly susceptible to the most disabling forms of TB, including TB meningitis which can result in lifelong brain damage.

·         Australia is well positioned to play a powerful role in tackling this modern plague through its significant research and industry capability. New vaccines and drugs could help countries like PNG with TB control, and ultimately eliminate TB as a public health risk.


Full report can be downloaded here.



Mobile phones to help fight diabetes and TB in PNG

James Cook University scientists are training health care providers in PNG to diagnose and treat diabetes and TB with the help of mobile phones.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Usman Malabu from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University has received a World Diabetes Foundation grant of US $228,000 for the project. 

Dr Malabu said they are taking a unique approach, capitalising on PNG’s high level of mobile phone usage. 

“Using mobile technology, we’ll be able to train local health care professionals to screen and identify who needs close care. After medications are prescribed the mobile app will remind the patients to take their recommended doses, what to do if they miss a dose, and when to attend follow up clinic appointments.” 

Dr Malabu said the project aims to improve care in New Ireland Province in PNG. “It’s important to address these two diseases in tandem, if you contract diabetes you’re three to four times more likely to develop TB in its severest form,” he said.  

AITHM’s Professor Emma McBryde says that TB is endemic in PNG and has reached crisis level. “PNG has one of the highest prevalences of TB in the world, with figures suggesting in some provinces it’s over 500 cases per 100,000 people per year,” she said.  

“Both TB and diabetes are often silent killers. It’s much better to address the problem with prevention measures. People may not know they have the disease and once complications occur it may be too late to access treatment,” Dr Malabu said. 

“It’s good for us to support the health care delivery and focus on prevention. The long-term consequences provide a huge benefit to the economy of the region,” Dr Malabu said.  

 “It’s great to see AITHM supporting these projects with Capacity-Building Grants, it’s this initial support that can lead to bigger investment and greater support, in this case, the World Diabetes Foundation. The idea is simple, innovative and funding can make a huge impact in these populations,” Dr Malabu said. 

“The importance of eradicating TB on our doorstep should not be over-emphasised, we’ve controlled it in Australia, we can now help eliminate TB, help the well being of our neighbours and our region at large,” Dr Malabu said.


Adapted from James Cook University news - full article can be found here

"Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone": Stop TB Partnership

Every year, there is an estimated 9 million new TB cases but consistently 3 million cases were either not diagnosed, not treated, or diagnosed but not registered by national TB programmes (NTPs). Major efforts are needed to close this gap.

Following discussions and consultation with partners, the Stop TB Partnership has announced the theme for World TB Day 2015. The overall theme will continue on from 2014 -- Reach the 3 Million. The main sub-theme and message for this year will be "Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone".

For World TB Day 2015, partners will continue to call for a global effort to find, treat and cure all people with TB and accelerate progress towards the bold goal of ending TB by 2035.

The Stop TB Partnership has developed a set of proposed campaign materials and messaging including a World TB Day Messaging Manifesto, updated World TB Day designs and visuals, and advocacy materials to support outreach to important stakeholders, including Ministers of Health and Parliamentarians. Please see here.

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