A new $8 million plan has been announced to strengthen PNG’s national health capacities in addressing the burden of Tuberculosis (TB). The new AusAID funded program will enable strengthening of the support and facilities of remote clinics in Daru and along the coastal villages of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea.
The strengthening of these national PNG authorities will be assisted by the work of bodies such as World Vision PNG; which are already delivering positive results in the area of treating and monitoring existing TB cases. Following a recent handover from the Queensland and the Australian Federal Governments, concern has been raised that that the closure of Australian clinics in the Torres Strait at the end of this month may be premature and that there may be no guarantee that services in Daru and surroundings will be accessed by PNG nationals.
Having advocated on the issue of tuberculosis for some years, grassroots anti-poverty organisation RESULTS International (Australia) hopes that success in this initiative will help to generate improved management of TB across the country.
National Manager, Maree Nutt, said:
RESULTS members will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that communication pathways are open between PNG clinicians and those who have been managing TB in the Torres Strait, to facilitate a sharing of skills, advice and experience. [These] improved hospital facilities, faster diagnostic tools (such as Gene Xpert) and health workers to supervise the long course of drug treatment are all essential for treating and minimizing the threat of TB and drug resistant TB.
The strengthening of national services will enable clients to better access to life-saving TB treatment as well as being a significant safeguard against the threat of drug-resistant TB to the Australian border. The issue of TB and drug resistant TB is not only a concern for the Western Province, but also for PNG more broadly. Recently ABC’s 7:30 Report warned of the threat of drug-resistant TB to Australian borders. Now, with improved health care facilities and increased capacity to treat TB, existing cases will be effectively managed on the PNG side of the border. Moreover, this will prevent PNG citizens from accessing treatment across the border, which is likely to result in irregular treatment and the development of drug-resistant forms of the disease.
As key organisation managing TB programs in PNG, World Vision PNG is one of the principal recipients of funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Over the last three years of the implementation of their DOTS project, World Vision has seen an improvement in the detections of TB from 21% to 81% of cases. The World Vision DOTS program coincides with the National TB Program, and provides feedback to the National Department of Health through provincial offices. World Vision PNG remains optimistic on the issue of integrating new patients into national programs in the effort to fight TB and its drug-resistant forms. World Vision PNG is mobilising its Stop TB Program in the Western Provinces, a program designed to forge a partnership between World Vision, AusAID, the Western Province Health Division and the National TB Program and utilise the skills and resources of each agency and maximize these for the benefit of the Western Province people so that TB services and case management can be dramatically improved in the region.
World Vision commented:
World Vision recognises that multi drug resistant TB on Australia’s border poses a major risk of the disease spreading further. However, like all issues it is important to locate these threats within a broader context. TB is clearly not a disease that is limited by provincial or international boundaries. When reviewing the broader TB landscape in PNG it is important to note that Western Province comprises just 1.7 percent of the total cases, with more than a third of the cases coming form Port Moresby. With this in mind it is important that we continue to push for nation-wide strengthening of TB services so that an inconsistency of care, such as that experienced on the Western Province Border, is not repeated.
World Vision views its work in Western Province as a high priority and is critically aware of how the often negative political debate around this cross border issue has the potential to have real ramifications on patient well being. From World Vision’s experience in managing TB across the country we know that if patients have to travel to receive TB treatment their likelihood of defaulting (stopping medication prematurely) increases significantly and the rise of drug resistant cases is only a matter of time. Therefore, with this injection of funding (AusAID), we believe that treating Western Province TB patients on the PNG side of the border, is not only within our technical capacity but also the only just way of providing TB care to these patients – the only way that is likely to provide increased cure rates.
The work of World Vision PNG and other PNG authorities remains a key force in identifying and treating TB in the Pacific region, and with the announced $8 million plan to better address the burden of TB in PNG, it will reduce the threat of the disease crossing the Australian border.
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Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a high-level advocacy organisation which seeks to mobilise regional awareness of the serious threat posed by HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to societies and economies in the Pacific. In pursuing its goals Pacific Friends has a specific interest in highlighting the need to protect the rights of women and children in the Pacific.