University of Otago doctor and scientist is calling on New Zealand to be the first country in the world to eliminate tuberculosis (TB), the top infectious disease killer in the world.
“With the right leadership, we could be the first country to eliminate tuberculosis and show the world it is possible,” Dr Ayesha Verrall, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, says.
Dr Verrall’s comments come on the eve of a major international conference on tuberculosis, which begins in Wellington tomorrow, 30 August.
“We’ve nearly eliminated tuberculosis in Pakeha or European New Zealanders, this shows that with commitment we could eliminate TB as a threat to everyone else’s health.”
Dr Verrall is an infectious diseases physician whose research focuses on tuberculosis. The disease is preventable, but New Zealand has not made any progress in reducing rates in recent years, she says.
“There are approximately 300 cases of tuberculosis each year. Of particular concern are the cases of multi-drug resistant TB; it is estimated a case of this costs $400,000 to treat due to the long period of treatment and hospital quarantine required and expensive medicines.
“We need to act now, while the number of multi-drug resistant cases in New Zealand is low. We also now have safer, faster, cheaper options for preventing tuberculosis.”
New Zealand has endorsed the United Nations’ sustainable development goal to eliminate tuberculosis by 2035, but it does not currently have a strategy to achieve this, Dr Verrall says.
“Australia has a tuberculosis elimination strategy, but New Zealand only has an elimination strategy for bovine (cow) TB.
“We need a strategy to drive the development of better tuberculosis screening programmes and the proper resourcing of preventive care. We currently use old fashioned screening methods, particularly in immigration, that fail to detect all forms of tuberculosis.”
Researchers, clinicians, practitioners and policy makers will gather in Wellington for the Australasian Tuberculosis Conference, held over two days.
The conference will hear from a New Zealand family affected by the infectious disease.