$1.6bn extra each year to fight drug resistant TB: health bodies | Connect Asia

$1.6bn extra each year to fight drug resistant TB: health bodies

$1.6bn extra each year to fight drug resistant TB: health bodies

Updated 19 March 2013, 16:03 AEDT

World health bodies say an extra $US1.

6 billion is needed each year to tackle drug resistant tuberculosis.

While the problem is most severe in Africa and Russia, China is also a hotspot for drug-resistant TB and regular TB is prevalent throughout most of Asia.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan, has described the situation as a "powder keg" and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has also spoken out about the situation.

This Sunday is World TB Day and James Gilling, Australian Ambassador for TB, HIV and Malaria is one of those campaigning.

But how widespread is drug resistant TB, compared with regular TB?

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: James Gilling, Australian Ambassador for TB, HIV and Malaria at Australia's International Development Assistance Agency, AusAID


GILLING: It's about ten per cent of the load for people who have TB. We have around the world at the moment around ten million people, a little bit more than that who currently have TB. I should of course point out that many of the world, about a third of the world actually carries the bacterium. The issue is that when peoples' immune systems are down that's when they start getting sick from the disease and that's when they start needing treatment. So certainly drug-resistant TB is a serious problem, but one-point-four-million people died last year from TB alone. So the whole problem of TB is a serious one that we're determined to address. 
COCHRANE: Is drug-resistant TB somewhat the same as drug-resistant dengue fever in that it is helped along by people who start treatment but don't finish it and allow the disease to strengthen and adapt?
GILLING: It's exactly the same and indeed it's very similar to the concerns that we're hearing expressed at the moment about antibiotics. In effect people will contract drug-resistant tuberculosis when they're unable to take the course of treatment for standard TB.
COCHRANE: And last week a young woman from Papua New Guinea tragically died from a particularly nasty strain of drug-resistant TB in hospital in Queensland. How concerned should Australia be about this?
GILLING: Well Australia as a global citizen needs to be concerned. First of all it needs to be concerned because as I said one-point-four-million people died last year from the disease. But it's a disease like many others, like malaria, like HIV which doesn't respect borders, and Australia as a global citizen, global air travel is prevalent and people with a disease can come to Australia or many other developed countries. So it's very important that Australia adopts appropriate techniques to fight the disease where it's most prevalent, and that is in the developing world, 95 per cent of cases are in the developing world. 
COCHRANE: Well can you tell us a little bit more about what Australia in particular does in the Asian region to help tackle tuberculosis?
GILLING: Absolutely so our attempts are focussed around three areas really. The first is that we support bodies like the World Health Organisation and the Global Fund that you just mentioned, they're the premier world bodies who really do have the technical know-how and the financial scale to fight the disease. And we provide a great deal of funding, in fact to the Global Fund itself, we've committed over 310-million dollars since 2004. And the Global Fund is the dominant donor and since 2002 they've treated nine-point-seven-million new cases. So the first plank of our support is through these multilateral organisations like the World Health Organisation and the Global Fund. The second plank is our country engagement, which particularly in areas that you've already mentioned like Papua New Guinea, we're working with the governments there to fight the issue of TB, right there in the countries themselves. And it's very important to emphasise that the bulk of spending on TB control takes place by governments themselves. Even if the world donors decided to triple their spending, they still wouldn't be providing the sorts of funds that are necessary to address the problem. Those funds largely come from the recipient countries, from the partner governments themselves, and that's why we work with them to help their response get stronger. And then the final area of support that we're working in addition to country areas, is through our medical research strategy, where we're looking at innovative ways of building up these scientific communities capacity to develop new lines of defence against this terrible disease. 
COCHRANE: Funding is always a difficult thing because there's a limited amount of money that people are willing to put towards various causes, and there are more and more causes to be funded. Is it difficult to balance the need for dealing with, treating and looking after people with the regular strands of TB, but also making sure someone is going in to drug-resistant tuberculosis and these new strains? Tell me about the balance of the funding there?
GILLING: Well I think they're absolutely linked, as I said before you get drug-resistant TB when your program of dealing with standard TB fails. So one is very closely linked to the other, they're not separate issues, they're absolutely linked, And what we are saying, and in my role as the ambassador to HIV AIDS, TB and Malaria, my role is to talk with governments to ensure that that funding is appropriate and is high enough. And really that's about making sure that governments understand not only the importance of putting the right amount of funds in, but it's also about spending it in the right way. And the big challenge for TB, as it is for malaria, as it is for most diseases, isn't so much in fighting the single disease, it's about making sure that the system works. And that means making sure that there are drugs in the hospitals, making sure that hospitals are maintained, making sure that nurses are there, making sure that there are appropriate levels of infection control. So you're right to point out the issue of making sure that the funding is appropriate, but it's also about how that money is spent.

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