You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Tuberculosis in PNG kids a hidden scourge

AAP logoAAP 22/08/2016 Lisa Martin

Kids at age 10 are usually a ball of energy, running around.

But not Grace Lani (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) - she was so weak she could hardly walk.

The little girl from Central Province in Papua New Guinea is battling tuberculosis for a second time in her short life.

Her survival story is outlined in a new report that ChildFund Australia released on Tuesday, written by journalist Jo Chandler.

The first time around after showing signs of improvement, Grace's mother stopped giving her medication because she was worried about overdosing her daughter.

Patients not taking a full six-month course of medication is a common problem in PNG and gives the bug a chance to become drug resistant.

Months later, when Grace became sicker than ever, the condition was picked up again, despite the family having to travel to Port Moresby for hospital treatment, running out of money while they were there, and misplaced medical test results.

Eventually Grace was given a stronger course of treatment.

Children account for a quarter of detected tuberculosis cases in PNG but that estimate is likely to be a fraction of the real story, the report says.

It can be difficult for children to cough up a sputum sample, which makes it difficult to bacteriologically confirm the cases - so many children go undiagnosed.

Childhood cases are put on the backburner because from a public health perspective the focus is on controlling the bug in adults because that's who is spreading it, the report says.

Ms Chandler says the recent El Nino event which caused food crops to fail and affected nutrition levels has contributed to the spread of TB in PNG.

In a hotspot like Daru, people are coming in from rural areas to live in settlements and there might be 30 people living in a room, she observed.

In the past three years more than 9000 Papua New Guineans were killed by TB compared to 11,300 killed by Ebola globally during that period.

"TB is such a slow motion catastrophe," Ms Chandler told AAP.

"The sense of urgency of the outbreak is lost - it's so hidden because it's so slow."

ChildFund chief executive Nigel Spence told AAP a critical shortage of health workers, under-resourced clinics, poor management of past outbreaks and a general low awareness about the disease have contributed to the crisis.

KEY TB STATISTICS IN PNG:

* 529 cases per 100,000 population = one of the highest prevalence rates in the world

* $62 = the drug cost of treating someone with standard TB for six months

* $12,420 = the drug cost of treating someone with multi-drug resistant TB for two years including six months in hospital.

* $20,700 = the drug cost of treating someone with extensively drug resistant TB

* Kids = 26 per cent of detected cases in PNG

(Source: ChildFund report)

* To donate to ChildFund's TB appeal visit: https://www.childfund.org.au/appeal/donate-stop-tb

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon