Sustainable Development Goals

Nick's Speech in the Opposition Day Debate

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I am proud to serve as co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis, which was established as a cross-party committee in 2005, after a group of Members went to see the problems of dealing with tuberculosis in Kenya and were immensely struck both by the then failure to get on top of a disease that had resurged globally and by the inadequate attention paid to this disease in our national discourse. Since then, our parliamentary group has worked to increase the profile of this terrible disease, which still kills 1.5 million people a year worldwide—entirely unnecessarily when this disease is, in the main, easily treatable and curable.

It is striking to reflect that TB was declared a global emergency two decades ago and that since then 25 million lives have been lost. However important our efforts to tackle Ebola—I fully support them and welcome DFID’s work in that respect and the sacrifice that many are making in doing so—we should note that TB kills as many people every two days as Ebola has so far killed in total. We have to make sure that we have a focus on this disease, while maintaining focus on the need to beat old diseases that pose a new threat today.

Yes, there have been successes. New cases have fallen sufficiently to meet the millennium development goal target, and deaths have nearly halved since 1990, but there are still 9 million new cases of TB globally every year. The number of new cases in central Asia, Africa and eastern Europe is not declining, and that is of particular concern. Moreover, we should note that the decline in new cases globally is only 1.5% a year. At the current rate, it will take us two centuries to beat the disease.

When the west got on top of TB, the annual decline was 10 percentage points a year. That tells us that unless we accelerate efforts to tackle the disease, we shall face a huge loss of life over the next 200 years, and we shall also face the growing costs of dealing with the disease.

One of the reasons for that rise in costs is drug resistance. Drug-resistant TB is caused by the fact that we have drugs that are 60 years old. We have old-fashioned antibiotics. Nor do we have a proper vaccine for TB, although many believe that we do. As a consequence, we are seeing the emergence of a lethal form of TB that is 450 times as expensive to treat. It is worrying that less than a quarter of drug-resistant cases of TB are detected, and only half are successfully treated. The Prime Minister’s anti-microbial resistance commission, which was established last July, has warned that a failure to tackle drug resistance could mean 10 million deaths from all diseases by 2050, and that, crucially, that would reduce world GDP by two to three and a half percentage points by 2050. All those facts make the case for more action now.

Pamela Nash

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech, and I agree with what he is saying, but is he as disappointed as I am that the Government have not committed themselves to the widely supported target of ending AIDS, TB and malaria by 2030?

Nick Herbert

 No. I was about to say that the Government’s response has been superb. They have just committed £1 billion to replenish the global fund, which is one of the biggest commitments that have been made. Eighty per cent. of all the world’s funding to fight TB is channelled through the fund, and as a result 12.3 million TB sufferers have been tested and treated so far. However, it should be recognised, in the context of the overall programme for tackling TB and the World Health Organisation’s target of ending TB by 2035, that there is a 2 billion annual shortfall. That is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom. There is a global shortfall amounting to a quarter of the resources that we need to beat this disease.

Let me urge two courses of action. First, we need to focus in the sustainable development goals on diseases that we can beat—TB, HIV and malaria—and on an explicit target to beat them. Secondly, we should step up our research and development effort to combat TB. We are at a tipping point: there is an opportunity, and there is a threat. The opportunity is the availability of new technology, which could enable us to beat TB within a generation. The threat is drug resistance, along with inadequate funding and insufficient efforts to combat the disease. That could mean an awful lot of cost and human suffering in future.DFID is the world’s best funder of research and development, and, given its fantastic leadership position, it could convene an international effort to step up research and development to beat TB.

I am proud to have led the formation of a global TB caucus last year, when 170 Members of Parliament from five continents came together to urge stronger action to tackle this disease. The success of our Committee and the caucus has been due to their cross-party nature, and the fact that they have operated on the basis of consensus. That tone was sadly lacking in the ill-judged speech of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh).


You can read the Hansard of the full debate here

Joe CoombesTB