World TB Day (24 March) commemorates the day that Robert Koch discovered the TB bacillus in 1882. This year, RESULTS Australia, in partnership with the TB Forum, the TB Alliance, the Burnet Institute, the Australian TB Caucus and the TB Centre of Research Excellence convened a World TB Day event at the Centenary Institute in Sydney on Wednesday 20 March. Speakers at the event included the Hon. Lisa Singh (Senator and Co-Chair of the Australian TB Caucus), Mr Robyn Davies (DFAT), Dr Anna Colwell (Dept. of Health), Dr Vicky Sheppeard (NSW Ministry of Health), Professor Warwick Britton (University of Sydney) and Dr Suman Majumdar (the Burnet Institute).
The speakers emphasised the great strides already undertaken to reduce TB rates in Australia and provide high quality care to all, while also acknowledging that more can be done to ensure that patients and their families are not adversely affected by TB, socially or economically.
The Hon Lisa Singh emphasised the need to continually raise awareness about the TB as a public health problem so that we don’t become complacent. Patient advocate Timothy spoke about his difficult journey with multidrug resistant TB and the need to take almost 40 tablets a day, with long periods of hospitalisation and the challenges associated with physical and mental side effects. Fortunately though, Timothy’s treatment was successful and despite the difficulties of treatment he attested to the excellent care that he received which helped him get through. Representatives from DFAT and the Commonwealth and New South Wales Departments of Health emphasised their commitment to domestic and regional TB control efforts and the continued need for vigilance to prevent TB and to keep TB rates low.
The evening was concluded with a lively panel discussion in which attendees posed difficult questions such as: when will we have a TB vaccine? what can Australia learn from other high TB burden countries? how should people at risk be screened so that more TB can be prevented? and is there a role for Australia in TB elimination in our region?
The theme of this year’s World TB Day is: It’s time. On this World TB Day, the TB Forum and our partners agree that it’s time to end TB as a public health problem.
Dr Suman Majumdar: Deputy Program Director, The Burnet Institute.