Leadership needed to tackle global "scandal" of 1.6 million deaths from TB

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for international leadership to address the “scandal” of 1.6 million deaths across the globe every year as a result of tuberculosis (TB).


Mr Herbert, who is Co-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global TB, was addressing the 38th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town at the weekend.

The World Health Organisation declared a global emergency on TB in 1993, and a regional emergency was declared in Africa in 2005, where the disease kills half a million people a year, a quarter of the global total.

Mr Herbert said that it was a "scandal" that so many were dying from "a disease which is easily treatable and easily curable at very low expense."  Greater investment was needed to tackle the crisis, not least to confront the new challenge of drug-resistant forms of TB, which killed 26,000 people last year, and to bring forward new drugs and a vaccine. 

There have been no new tests or treatments for TB developed in decades and the drugs that are available are difficult to administer as they have to be taken regularly over six months

The MP said that, like HIV, dealing with TB "should transcend any party political considerations, and requires leadership above that of domestic or party considerations.

"It requires people to lift their sights and realise that we are facing a huge catastrophe, a humanitarian crisis.  And that is something which is not just a question of resources.

"It is, above all, a question of leadership which only political leaders can give, and can then filter down right through to those trying to confront this disease at the local level."

Mr Herbert also called for TB and AIDS programmes to be integrated, warning about the "dislocation" of aid programmes "right from the very top at government level, through to the regional and local organisation of healthcare, right down to the different treatment availabilities and personnel."

He said that the consequence was "a failure to recognise the vital importance of the co-relationship between these two diseases, and both the opportunity and necessity of treating them both together."

TB is a leading killer among HIV-infected people with weakened immune systems.  About 200,000 people with HIV/AIDS die from TB every year, most of them in Africa. 

Nick Herbert helped to set up the APPG last year following a visit to Kenya, where he witnessed at first hand the grip of the TB pandemic.  The Group aims to raise awareness of the disease and strengthen the UK's commitment to tackling it.

He told the conference: "Back in the UK, there is a high understanding and awareness of the international problem of HIV AIDS, and indeed of malaria, but less understanding about the problems and significance of TB."

Another speaker at the conference, West Sussex resident Paul Thorn, said that the TB crisis in South Africa should act as a wake-up call to tackle the growing cases of the disease in the UK.

Mr Thorn, the sole survivor of an outbreak of a Multidrug Resistant TB outbreak at a London hospital more than a decade ago, is now Director of the Tuberculosis Survival Project and the author of books on the illness.

Nick Herbert said that there were over 8,000 cases of TB a year in the UK, but pointed out that it "is of course, as nothing, compared to the international tragedy of 1.6 million people dying every year from this treatable and curable disease - 600,000 in this continent alone."

"TB should be a disease of the past," the MP added. "It's appalling that it is a disease of the present."

During his visit to Cape Town Nick Herbert visited Khayelitsha, one of South Africa's largest townships, where he visited a local clinic and met with medical staff and members of the Treatment Action Campaign, a South African AIDS activist organisation.

The MP also visited Hout Bay, an area where TB and HIV co-infection rates are as high as 80 per cent.  He met patients in their homes who were being looked after by local treatment supporters employed by the TB Care Association.

Mr Herbert visited Cape Town from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 November.  During the course of his visit he met with Canadian MPs who were also attending the conference, WHO officials, TB campaign groups, DFID officials and the British High Commissioner, Paul Boateng.  The visit was funded by the charity Results.



Notes for Editors

1. The webcast of Nick Herbert's Speech to the 38th Union World Conference on Lung Health can be found at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/health_cast/hcast_index.cfm?display=detail&hc=2397.

Starts at: 4 mins 53 secs & Ends at: 12 mins 20 secs

2. A transcript of the speech can be found at http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/101/Nick%20speaks%20at%20a%20World%20Health%20Conference%20on%20TB.

3. An interview of Nick Herbert about TB with Kaisernetwork.org, the Conference's webcast provider, can be found at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/health_cast/hcast_index.cfm?display=detail&hc=2388#herbert.

4. Further information about the APPG on Global Tuberculosis can be found at: http://www.appg-tb.org.uk/.

Alexander BlackTB