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.”
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE REPORT
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.