By JOHN FOWKE
Is it possible that drug-resistant TB is spreading from PNG’s Western province into Australia?
The answer according to a Queensland Health Department spokesman is “Yes. We have not seen a case yet in an Australian resident of the Torres Strait, but the likelihood is that the disease is there and will show up in the next two or three years.
“ PNG has not been able to cope with the TB problem and for this reason we have helped as much as possible.
"We have been running clinics for Papua New Guinean TB-sufferers on Boigu and Saibai Islands for some years now, and funds have just been provided to PNG to take up this work themselves.”
Papua New Guinea once maintained an active TB Control Unit with teams operating throughout the nation, but this activity ceased many years ago, and treatment for TB sufferers, like medical treatment in general, is hit-and-miss at best.Papua New Guinea - with AUD 8 million in Australian project aid - has taken a big step towards tackling drug-resistant tuberculosis.
The disease is a major problem in Papua New Guinea's remote Western province, which is just a short boat ride from far north Queensland.
The new moves mean locals should no longer have to travel south for treatment, as PNG correspondent for ABC Liam Fox reports.
LIAM FOX: Western Province is one of the most remote and least developed corners of PNG.
So when a purpose built water ambulance was launched at the wharf in the provincial capital of Daru Island it was a cause for celebration.
The boat was christened PNG-style with a coconut, instead of a champagne bottle, cracked over the bow.
It'll be used to transfer patients and deliver drug supplies to communities around the mouth of the Fly River. It'll also help health workers monitor tuberculosis patients and make sure they're sticking to the lengthy treatment of drugs needed to beat the disease.
When they don't, and in the past many haven't, they develop drug-resistant TB.
Alice Honjepani is the director of Rural Health Services in Western Province and says the ambulance is a huge boost to their capabilities.
The water ambulance is just one part of an $8 million AusAID package to improve health services here. The Daru hospital also has a new digital X-ray machine.
And soon to arrive is equipment that can diagnose drug-resistant TB within two hours - the first of its kind in PNG. It'll mean patients will no longer have to wait weeks for the results of samples sent to Australia for testing before the can start treatment.
Dr Rendi Moke is the AusAID funded TB physician at the Daru Hospital and says bringing drug-resistant TB under control is a huge task.
Aniwa Sasua is the chairman of the Daru hospital's board and last year his 20-year-old son died from drug-resistant TB. He says he's grateful for Australia's help in tackling the disease because successive PNG governments have done nothing.
All but 16 of the 80 PNG citizen patients who were being treated in the Torres Strait have now been transferred back to Western Province.