TB victim in warning to UK

A tuberculosis crisis in South Africa should act as a wake-up call to tackle the growing cases of the disease in the UK, a TB victim warned today. 


Paul Thorn, the sole survivor of an outbreak of a highly-resistant TB strain at a London hospital more than a decade ago, said the fact that an even more virulent strain had reached the UK should raise concern.

Mr Thorn, from West Sussex, was speaking in Cape Town during a conference on fighting tuberculosis - a disease now being considered a "crisis" in South Africa.

Also at the conference were Westminster MPs Nick Herbert, the Tory co-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis, and Labour's Doug Naysmith, a member of the Commons Health Select Committee.

Mr Thorn, who has fully recovered from the multidrug-resistant TB known as MDR-TB, is now Director of the Tuberculosis Survival Project and the author of books on the illness.

He said: "If we cannot help deal with MDR-TB in South Africa, this will inevitably become a bigger problem for the UK and elsewhere. TB is airborne, it can travel, and helping control the crisis in South Africa will help protect the UK."

Pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly, which has set up a partnership of 14 public and private organisations to try to eradicate MDR-TB, said an even tougher strain - XDR-TB - had now been found in 37 countries, including the UK.

XDR-TB - "Extensively Drug-Resistant TB" - is adding to the crisis in South Africa, where nearly 600,000 people are dying from TB every year.

Mr Thorn said he had been the only survivor out of seven patients in a London hospital who contracted MDR-TB in 1995.

"The fact that the even more difficult XDR-TB has been recorded in the UK should act as a wake-up call to treat this disease as something with the potential to grow in our country," he said.

A report six months ago by the Commons all-party group on TB said the world was "slowly waking up" to the need to speed up action to stop TB.

It said TB was on the increase in the UK and warned: "TB outbreaks in the UK and elsewhere in the world are inextricably related."

TB was declared a continent-wide emergency in Africa two years ago, but it remains a relatively small issue in the UK. Nevertheless, the number of cases grew by more than 10% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2004-2005 - the largest increase since 1999.

About 350 cases are recorded in England each year, the largest proportion - 42% - occurring in the London area.

And the UK and Ireland are among the 37 countries worldwide - also including a dozen other EU nations, Russia, America, Canada and South Africa - with confirmed XDR-TB cases.

But Mr Naysmith emphasised: "We are not in a situation where you can say the crisis in Africa risks becoming a crisis in the UK, but we are here in South Africa to gather information and to see how we can do more to help. Africa's TB problem has many causes, not least difficulties of health care and housing and poverty."

The Department for International Development (DFID) already helps fund TB control in Africa, Asia and Latin America but Mr Herbert acknowledged the problem was deepening because of MDR-TB and XDR-TB and the "deadly interaction" between TB and HIV/AIDs.

"About 1.6 million people die every year from TB, nearly 600,000 of them in Africa.

"In comparison, there are relatively few cases in the UK, where we have a good health system thanks to which these cases can be dealt with."

Mr Herbert added: "We believe the UK, as one of the largest economies in the world, has a responsibility towards the developing countries, With sufficient help, TB is a curable disease, and one that can be treated for about 20 dollars per person."

The Department for International Development (DFID) already helps fund TB control in Africa, Asia and Latin America but Mr Herbert acknowledged the problem was deepening because of MDR-TB, XDR-TB and the "deadly interaction" between TB and HIV/Aids.

The head of Eli Lilly's International Aid Unit, Patrizia Carlevaro, said the company had ploughed about 65 million pounds into the MDR-TB Partnership, which also involves the World heath Organisation, the World Medical Association and the World Economic Forum.

"We want improved care for some of the world's most vulnerable people By enhancing access to medicines, the training of doctors and nurses and the transfer of technology," said Ms Carlevaro.

"Our shared goal is to contain and someday conquer this deadly disease."

[Source: press release from the Press Association about Global Tuberculosis]


In his role as one of the co-chairmen of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis Control, Nick attended the 38th Union World Conference on Lung Health in South Africa.

Nick's interview with the Conference's webcast provider, Kaisernetwork.org, can be seen below: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/health_cast/hcast_index.cfm?display=detail&hc=2388#herbert

Alexander BlackTB