Tuberculosis poses a serious threat to communities in the Torres Strait, MP Warren Entsch has warned.
Mr Entsch was speaking at the launch of the Australian TB Caucus, a group of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum who have committed to support research into new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines to tackle the disease.
“We've already had a number of deaths,” he said.
“We had a grandmother die - an Australian - die recently, from one of the islands. We had a daughter pass away. And her granddaughter now is being treated for tuberculosis.”
TB is a major killer in Australia’s northern neighbours, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Queensland aid worker Sheriden Morris, who lives in Cairns, was infected with latent, multi-drug-resistant TB while working in badly affected treaty villages in the western province of Papua New Guinea.
Latent TB is not contagious, nor life-threatening, but there is a chance her infection will one day become active.
“I'm just about to be a grandmother, and probably the biggest fear in my life is to hold a newborn grandchild knowing you harbour TB,” Ms Morris said.
TB now rivals HIV as the most deadly infectious disease in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, and was responsible for over one million deaths worldwide in 2014.
Also of concern is the increasing prevalence of drug-resistant strains of the disease. In Indonesia, 12 percent of TB cases are multi-drug-resistant.
Mr Entsch says he wants to see more funding for TB research. An effective vaccine has not yet been developed.
“The treatment of tuberculosis today is no different to the treatment when my mother had tuberculosis in 1963, and no different to someone [who] had tuberculosis in 1930. It's the same treatment. And we can do better,” Mr Entsch said.
Indonesian TB survivor Lusiana Aprilawati visited Canberra for the launch of the new group. In her home country, there are one million new cases every year.
“We cannot choose the air that we breathe in, so it could be anywhere and it could happen [to] anyone,” Ms Aprilawati said.