Nick speaks at a World Health Conference on TB

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

My name is Nick Herbert, I am a British member of Parliament and I am a co-chairman of our All Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB.

It's a huge pleasure to be invited here to speak to you briefly this morning, and a great privilege.
I am sorry to trespass on your detailed medical and scientific discussions, which, of course, as a politician I wouldn't understand.

Like Lee [Richardson], I have no expertise medically in these matters - not that lack of expertise ever stopped a politician from talking about anything in the past.

You're the experts.

But I do care about this issue a great deal.

The history of the All Party Group is that in September 2005, just two weeks after the regional emergency was declared in relation to TB in Africa, a cross party group of Members of Parliament were taken to Kenya by the charity Results to see the problem of TB.

I think it's true to say that 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.

Partly because in the UK it's been believed for a long time, wrongly of course, that TB has all but been eradicated.

And I do want to emphasise that the reason I am here is not because there has just been a spike in the number of TB cases in the United Kingdom.

There have, they have increased quite sharply over the last few years.

But there are still only 8,000 cases in the UK a year - it is a cause for concern, and our Health Service has had to respond.

But there are a very few deaths and we have an advanced health system that is able to deal with the problem.

That 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.

And it's important, therefore, to emphasise that we are here not out of self-interest, but because of our common humanity, and a belief that this is a tragedy that must be confronted.

There are three key points which the All Party Group has been seeking to make.

The first is that we cannot escape the role of greater investment in dealing with this crisis.

Investment because we are now confronted with the MDR and XDR resistant strains of this disease - killing 26,000 people, as you know better than others, last year - and the threat that poses.

Investment because the TB drugs are relatively old and need to be taken over a long period of time.

And investment on a significant scale internationally.

Britain - along with Canada and the other developed countries - has played its part in contributing increasingly both directly to countries though bi-lateral agreements and support for particular programmes, not least here in South Africa, but also through the global Fund.

But there is, as we all know, so much more to do.  There is a huge funding gap in relation to the Global Fund that has not yet been met, and there is a need to recognise internationally the responsibility which the developed countries, in particular, have to continue to invest in that Fund if this challenge of TB - along with the associated challenges of HIV Aids and Malaria - is to be addressed.

The second thing that we have been trying to promote back in the UK is the importance of trying to tackle TB and HIV together, of co-ordinated programmes.

We have seen for ourselves in Kenya, India, here in South Africa, on our visits, the dislocation of such 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.

And as a consequence, the 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.

But the third and most important message that we have from the All Party Group is that of the importance of leadership.

Our Group is cross Party.

I am here as a British Conservative Member of Parliament, along with a Labour Member of Parliament, Doug Naysmith.

Our Group embraces politicians of all the major parties and there is no disagreement about this issue back in the UK.

We are equally committed to the spending targets set internationally; equally committed to do something about this issue.

I believe that this disease is one, which along with HIV, 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.

TB should be a disease of the past and it is appalling that it is a disease of the present.

It is, by any standards, a tragedy if 1.6 million people are dying every year from whatever cause.

But frankly it becomes a scandal if 1.6 million people are dying of a disease which is easily treatable, easily curable at very low expense.

It is an international shame that that is happening in the 21st century.

So I want to share with you the commitment that we have as British Parliamentarians to raise the profile of this issue back at home; to make the British public understand the importance of the support that their providing towards programmes to deal with this disease; and towards tackling it in the interests of our common humanity.

Nick Herbert