'Urgent action' needed on tuberculosis on PNG island

8:11 am on 13 January 2016

A communicable diseases expert says urgent action is needed to try and stop what appears to be a unique drug-resistant form of tuberculosis on the Papua New Guinea island of Daru.

Fly River, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

More than 160 of the 15,000 people who live on the island have been infected. Photo: EM TV

Brendan Crabb, the director of Australia's Burnet Institute, says it is possible a unique superbug may have developed, although further research is needed.

Professor Crabb says the PNG Government has a good emergency response plan, but the promised funding for it has not yet been delivered.

He says authorities need to act quickly to contain its spread.

"Every indication is that the PNG government knows what it is doing and it's responding very effectively, but the money hasn't yet flowed to where it's needed. So that is a significant concern. You know, there's just an urgency here, the drug resistant form of TB we're seeing at the moment is much more explosive than any circumstance we've known of before."

Professor Crabb says environmental factors including poverty, a sub-optimal health system, and poor housing and nutrition have contributed to its spread, but researchers are worried a unique superbug may have developed.

"Traditionally drug-resistant strains of TB are considered to be less fit than the non-drug resistant forms - they're poor growers and poor spreaders. The concern here is that may not be the case and we need to do some work to find out if there is indeed a superbug - a drug-resistant organism that's spreading very well."