The effort to stop tuberculosis (TB) in Papua New Guinea received a boost today with the opening of new specialist treatment facilities at Daru General Hospital in PNG's Western Province.
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Senator The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite, opened the 22-bed TB and isolation ward at Daru General Hospital with PNG Minister for Health and HIV, the Hon Michael Malabag MP.
The ward comprises six isolation rooms that meet international standards for isolation of airborne infections, as well as a 16 bed ward for patients recovering from TB.
The new ward is part of Australia's $33 million commitment to support the Government of PNG's approach to detection and treatment of TB in Western Province.
Senator Thistlethwaite said the best way to stop drug-resistant TB is early diagnosis paired with Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course (DOTS) provided for patients in their own communities. The World Health Organization's DOTS protocol uses health volunteers to visit TB patients daily to ensure they take their medication and complete their full course of treatment.
'This is the approach Australia supports and it is saving lives,' Senator Thistlethwaite said. 'Data from Daru Hospital shows that mortality rates from multi-drug resistant TB fell from 25 per cent to 5 per cent between 2011 and 2012.'
Australia's support in Western Province includes providing TB specialist staff, training for community health workers and volunteer treatment supporters, medical equipment, drugs, a sea ambulance, and funding for laboratory diagnosis support in Queensland. Australia's approach has been endorsed by public health and TB experts, including the Commonwealth's Chief Medical Officer, Queensland's Chief Health Officer and the World Health Organization, the global authority on controlling TB.
However Senator Thistlethwaite noted the problem is not just confined to PNG's Western Province.
'Across PNG around 14,000 new cases of TB are diagnosed every year, making it one of the country's most significant health and development issues.
'That being said, we know that TB is preventable and treatable and that with the right commitment and support, we can make a difference.'
Apart from its work in Western Province, Australia funds a specialist TB Medical Officer in the World Health Organisation's Port Moresby office whose role includes supervising and training health workers to improve TB management throughout PNG.
Broader Australian assistance for PNG's health system includes health worker training, medical supply distribution and technical support. This assistance also contributes to PNG's national response to diseases like TB. In addition, Australia supports the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which is investing US$28.2 million (2007-2014) in supporting the Government of PNG manage TB nationally.
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