Vital Australian research projects to fight antimicrobial resistance and TB in the Pacific

  • Joint media release
  • The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health
  • Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women
  • The Hon. Warren Entsch MP, Member for Leichhardt
27 June 2020

Australia’s commitment to support the health and wellbeing of our Pacific Island neighbours remains steadfast, with four new research projects totalling more than $8.3 million to tackle the threat of drug resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the Pacific region.

DR-TB and AMR are major emerging health threats to Pacific Island countries.

Part of the funding is a $4.25 million Australian research project that will specifically address antibiotic resistant tuberculosis in the Pacific.

This research will be led by Professor Barend Marais of the University of Sydney, and include trialling bold new strategies to reduce and eventually eliminate DR-TB in the Pacific.

Professor Marais’ research will focus on the DR-TB hotspot of Kiribati.

Every person aged three or older with TB disease or infection in the capital Tarawa will be treated to prevent the emergence and spread of DR-TB. Patients will be identified by tuberculin skin testing, chest X-ray and/or sputum testing.

The project team will also provide training and mentoring in six Pacific Island countries, to improve DR-TB care and prevention, and model the cost-effectiveness of different elimination strategies.

The project will start in June 2020 and is funded for four years.

The research is being funded under the Medical Research Future Fund’s Global Health Initiative, which focuses on AMR and DR-TB as threats to global and national health security.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said the research had “the potential to save many thousands of lives in the Pacific and around the world”.

“The World Health Organization estimates around 10 million people each year fall sick with TB, with nearly 60 per cent of new cases each year occurring in the Indo-Pacific region,” Minister Hunt said.

Three other projects selected for funding under the initiative are based at the University of Melbourne, and the Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, said the research reinforced Australia’s close relationship with, and commitment to supporting, our Pacific Island countries.

“All of the chosen projects represent high-quality, collaborative research with the potential to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of AMR and DR-TB in Pacific Island countries,” Minister Payne said.

“These projects will reduce sickness and deaths from TB and AMR, and also build health collaboration between Australia and Pacific Island countries, workforce capacity and understanding of AMR and DR-TB in Pacific countries.”

Minister Payne said the research would complement work being done to support intensive TB detection and treatment in the Indo-Pacific region, funded by $5 million announced by the Government in August 2019.

Warren Entsch MP, co-chair of the Australian TB Caucus that focuses on TB in the Pacific, welcomed the announcement of funding for the research projects.

“TB is one of the oldest diseases known to man and has a devastating impact on people, families and communities,” he said.

“While it was reduced to isolated areas through antibiotics, the spread of antibiotic resistant strains in recent years is a massive threat to health in less developed nations.

“These practical research projects will make a huge contribution to controlling and eventually eliminating the threat of drug resistant tuberculosis in the Pacific.”

Institution  Project  Funding
University of Melbourne Rapid detection of drug resistant tuberculosis using real-time sequencing $0.79 million
Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health Comprehensive community-based solutions to reduce transmission of drug resistant TB  $2.51 million
University of Melbourne Preparing Fiji’s health system to contain and manage pathogens with critical Antimicrobial Resistance $0.82 million
University of Sydney Testing new strategies to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis in the Pacific Region $4.25 million

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