It’s a disease that killed Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, and George Orwell.
Beyond renowned authors of the 19th and 20th centuries, the devastating tuberculosis disease is currently the leading infectious disease threat in the world — above HIV/AIDS.
For those who live in advanced market economies, however, tuberculosis is often thought of as a disease of the past. On June 20, Global Citizen sought to change this narrative, partnering with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria for an exclusive screening event and panel discussion on the nature of tuberculosis and how best to eradicate it.
Sydney-based Global Citizens came together to watch UnMasked: We All Breathe, a documentary on the experience of three young, affluent South African doctors who contracted multi-drug resistant tuberculosis after treating their patients.
Following the documentary screening, the audience was treated to a panel discussion featuring incredible guest speakers.
Peter Sands, the executive director of the Global Fund, spoke to the crowd about rates of tuberculosis infections around the world and explained that, while we are all susceptible, the people this disease really kills are the poor and marginalized.
In 2017, around 10 million people developed tuberculosis. The disease caused an estimated 1.3 million deaths among HIV-negative people and 300,000 deaths among HIV-positive individuals. The strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to the leading treatment drugs was contracted by almost half a million people.
In Papua New Guinea, tuberculosis is the leading cause of hospitalization and death. In 2017, 2,000 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis were recorded throughout the Pacific island nation.
"Tuberculosis is the infectious disease. It kills more than any other,” he stated. “Many countries have successfully worked to rid themselves of the disease. While we have made progress, we aren't making progress fast enough.”
Jo Chandler, tuberculosis survivor and Australian journalist, similarly spoke about the prevalence of the disease. Chandler explained how she contracted the disease while working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the subsequent guilt she felt for accessing the required treatment drugs when so many worldwide miss out.
Beyond her own experience, as a journalist, Chandler spoke about the media’s role in reporting on public health crises.
"This is Ebola with wings,” she stated. “But, because you don't see instant consequences, it's hard to tell the story in the media. The media is broken and the capacity for journalists to tell stories from hard to reach places in eroded.”
Lastly, the vice chair of the Global Fund and former first lady of PNG, Roslyn Morauta, addressed the audience. Morauta spoke on the “ghastly” side effects of the standard drugs used to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The treatment, she explained, is decades old and causes significant hearing loss in 50% of patients.
"It’s not a nice treatment,” she stated. “To take that cocktail of drugs every day is really hard. Especially in PNG, a population with some of the world’s poorest people and where disease understanding is so limited.”
Check out the signatures on the #SydneyStatement! If you would like to sign the Statement please visit The Exhibition! If you couldn't make it you can still contribute by signing here: https://t.co/qyP0wRNlvZ#GlobalHealthpic.twitter.com/pDeuW1eAkx— Global Health Security 2019 (@GHS2019conf) June 19, 2019
The screening and panel discussion event fell on the same week as Sydney’s Global Health Security Conference.
The three-day event works to bring together government officials and international organizations to share updates on policy developments and to identify new opportunities to enhance global health security.
During the conference, Greg Hunt, Australia’s minister for health, called for an end to tuberculosis in the Asia Pacific region within a decade. The ambitious call was widely praised, particularly by Darryl O’Donnell, CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organization.
The AFAO have now called on Australia to pledge $300 million AUD during the Global Fund replenishment in October.
"Minister Hunt’s call to eradicate tuberculosis in our region is a moment of profound leadership,” O’Donnell stated in a media release. “Australian experience, expertise, and financial support must be leveraged to convert the minister’s aspiration into reality and alleviate suffering for hundreds of thousands of people across our region.”
Global Citizen holds events around the world, year-round. The Australian Global Citizen team are always adding new exciting events in cities across the country — so make sure you check back on our Facebook page for announcements on upcoming events. These events provide an opportunity for people to join the conversation with like-minded Global Citizens, hear from pioneering activists creating incredible change, meet the Australian Global Citizen team, and learn how to increase impact within their community and beyond.