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4.25 million for TB control in the Pacific

A team of TB-CRE researchers and affiliates led by Professor Ben Marais have been awarded $4.25 million in MRFF funding to pave a pathway for the elimination of TB in the Pacific.

Drug resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) presents an increasingly urgent threat to our region, and the threat is a daily challenge for the Pacific Nation of Kiribati. Kiribati, a vibrant collection of islands and atolls home to more than 110,000 people is located half-way between Australia and Hawaii. Kiribati suffers from overpopulation and is also vulnerable to rising sea-levels. The capital island of South Tarawa houses more than half the country's population in 16 square kilometres, and TB presents a continuing health risk to the I-Kiribati people.

As part of Australia's commitment to support the wellbeing of our Pacific Island neighbours, $8.3 million was dedicated to promote control of DR-TB and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the Pacific, with $4.25 million to fund a community-wide screen-and-treat study for TB, DR-TB, latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) and Leprosy in South Tarawa, led by Professor Ben Marais and Professor Warwick Britton.

The study, Pathway to the Elimination of Antibiotic Resistant and Latent tuberculosis in the Pacific (PEARL), will screen every person aged 3 & older in a population of more that 60,000 people in South Tarawa. Each person will be tested for TB disease or infection by tuberculin skin testing, chest X-ray and/or sputum testing. People with active TB will be referred for TB treatment, and those with LTBI will be treated with preventative therapy to diminish the pool of future disease activation.

The PEARL study utilises concepts of whole population screening and active case finding, which was shown by TB-CRE researchers and PEARL study researchers Professor Guy Marks and Associate Professor Greg Fox to halve TB over 4 years in the Asia-Pacific context of Vietnam (the ACT5 trial). The wealth of expertise in TB control and elimination within the TB-CRE has been looked to in the development of this exciting study.

The project, in collaboration with the Australian Respiratory Council (ARC) further incorporates capacity building and education in TB control for Kiribati and 6 other Pacific Island nations. Cost-effectiveness and strategy modelling for the improvement of TB elimination studies will be included by study colleagues working in Melbourne at Monash University under the leadership of Associate Professor James Trauer.

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.

For further information and to access the press release, see here.

To get in touch with the PEARL study team, please contact us here.

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