Tuberculosis testing continues as calls for a new vaccine grow

Screening and testing to contain an outbreak of tuberculosis continues on Indigenous lands in South Australia amid new calls for additional funding to eradicate the disease by 2030.

Earlier this month, SA Health reported 10 confirmed cases of TB in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara grounds, which prompted an immediate response with wider community checks and general screening.

About 50 people have reportedly gone through the process so far.

Senior health officials also visited the area with the state’s Indigenous Public Health team leading engagement in affected communities including those in Bocatja, Amata and Pipalijtara.

The response included contact tracing and active case detection to treat and contain the outbreak.

The International Health and Education Findings Group noted the cases in APY lands as they marked World Tuberculosis Day on Friday with calls for a new vaccine by 2025 as part of efforts to eliminate the disease by the end of the decade.

“The progress we have been making in reducing TB cases and deaths over the years has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as TB infections go undetected and are not controlled,” said CEO Nigaia Corley.

Now, for the first time in over a decade, TB deaths are increasing.

“TB could soon reclaim the title of leading cause of death worldwide from a single infectious agent, yet the disease is completely preventable and curable.”

Ms Chorley said the same concerted global momentum harnessed to tackle COVID-19 must be applied to end tuberculosis.

“We need to use all the tools in the toolbox including scaling up prevention, treatment and recovery,” she said.

Ms Chorley said the current TB vaccine was more than a century old and a new, effective version would save millions of lives.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we have the scientific ability and know-how to treat infectious diseases including tuberculosis,” she said.

We just need the will.

“We are calling on the Australian government to encourage world leaders to set ambitious goals to end TB and support it with adequate funding.”

At about the same time as the APY outbreak, SA South African Deputy State Coroner Ian White reported the death of a girl and woman from tuberculosis infection.

Monineth Chum, 9, died in hospital in February 2017 after being sick for several months, while 29-year-old Rahima Shareef Kanjith was found dead in her bed at home in 2018.

In either case, Mr. White raised concerns about how they were watched and followed in the lead-up to their deaths.

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