Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing this debate. I am delighted to be taking part in it, particularly as I have resumed the co-chairmanship of the all-party group on global tuberculosis, now that I am free to do so. It is, quite properly, a cross-party co-chairmanship, which reflects growing concern in the House about what is often a “Cinderella” disease—one that is not talked about as much as some other diseases that are still claiming lives today.
We are, properly, concerned about the terrible tragedy in the Philippines and the loss of thousands of lives and we are, properly, marking world AIDS day on Sunday and the millions of lives that have been claimed by that disease. There is a strong overlap, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, between HIV and tuberculosis, which many still believe is essentially a disease of the past. Indeed, before I became involved in this movement, I thought so too. In the 19th century, tuberculosis—consumption—was regarded sometimes even as a romantic disease, as featured in many operas of that era, yet one in four people in Europe were dying of consumption at that time. It was only with the advent of modern medicine—antibiotics—and the west’s attack on poverty in the late 19th and early 20th century that the disease was brought under control.
There are some sobering observations to make about the rate at which TB—which, as the hon. Gentleman said, has now resurged here, as a disease of the present—is being tackled, compared with the rate at which the west dealt with it in that era. At the current level of progress that the west in making in dealing with a disease that is still claiming 1.3 million lives a year—unnecessarily, because in the main it is easily and cheaply curable—we will have to rapidly step up the efforts that are being made, because the incidence of this disease is currently declining by 2% a year. If we continue at this rate, it will take more than a whole lifetime—a whole generation—and it will be more than 100 years before we tackle this disease properly and get it under control. That will mean that millions of lives will needlessly be lost.
On top of that, there is a growing threat—one that now amounts to a serious issue for this country as well—of drug-resistant TB, the emergence of which is entirely a reflection of the ancient way in which we treat this disease. Were it not for the fact that people with TB require lengthy treatment with antibiotics, because the drug regimens are old-fashioned and no new drugs have been developed, and were it not for the prevalence of counterfeit drugs and the inadequacy of health regimes, drug-resistant TB might not have developed with such ferocity. However, it is now a serious matter of concern, and not just in developing countries, where people unlucky enough to be diagnosed with drug-resistant TB—and few are—almost always face a death sentence. Acquiring drug-resistant TB in a developed country with an advanced health system would still require an expensive and extremely painful course of treatment over months and years.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): While the right hon. Gentleman is elaborating on the complications that follow diagnosis, does he agree that there is a shocking compounding of the problem worldwide, because in some countries lung cancer is being diagnosed to a considerable degree in people who are subsequently diagnosed with TB?
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. The starting position has been that we need the means to diagnose this disease.
Let us face up to the fact that if the resurgence of this disease had been in the west, it would already have been tackled by now. The pharmaceutical companies would have had a commercial interest in developing better diagnostics and tools, better drugs and, indeed, a vaccine. Another common misconception is that a vaccine is available to deal with TB, but only the BCG vaccine exists, and that is generally ineffective for most forms of TB and works for children for a limited time. Had this disease resurged in the west, by now we would already have these things, but we do not, because the drug companies did not have a commercial interest in developing them, essentially because the disease was found in developing countries without the economies or the wherewithal to pay for these new tools.
There can be no better example of the necessity for intervention by wealthy western Governments, who have the resources to ensure that such a disease can be tackled, not just in the interests of ensuring that lives can be saved—there is a profound moral reason to tackle this anyway—but in the west’s interests in securing the economic development of high-burden countries that are afflicted with this disease, which is a tremendous brake on economic development. Of course, TB is a disease that knows no borders, and with migration, and so on, we face the prospect of it resurging in our country. We have higher rates of TB in this country now—although they are low by comparison with high-burden countries in the rest of the world—than in the rest of Europe. We have failed to reduce rates in the past 10 years, as compared with the United States, for example, which has got on top of the problem. This is a pressing public health issue in this country.
There are lots of reasons for western Governments to be concerned about this issue. Therefore, I strongly endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said about the UK Government’s recent commitment, which has not been sufficiently noticed, to replenish the global health fund. That is a fantastic commitment, not just because of the absolute sums pledged to the global health fund—which is an effective means of tackling TB and is responsible for 80% of the funding for TB programmes across the world—but because it sends a powerful message, ahead of the replenishment summit next Monday, to other potential donor countries about the value of stepping up our efforts at this time.
The west faces a choice. We have the opportunity, with the potential emergence of new treatments, diagnostics, and so on, to get on top of this disease. If we relax our efforts and fall victim to the idea that, at a time of austerity, the west might pull back from some commitments that it is making, our efforts to tackle TB would go into reverse. This is an important moment to step up to the plate. Britain has done so admirably. I commend the work of the Secretary of State for International Development and Ministers in making that commitment, and I encourage other countries to do the same.
Andrew George: Again, I congratulate the Government on their efforts regarding the global health fund, which sets the tone, but is my right hon. Friend and co-chair of the all-party group aware that just before this debate the Government published the HIV position paper, which appears to suggest that the UK’s contribution to eradicating TB can largely be delivered through the global health fund, whereas for HIV it can also be delivered by a significant strategy pursued by the Department?
Nick Herbert: I hope the Minister has noted my hon. Friend’s point, because TB control programmes rely on funding from the global health fund. We need to send that message to the global health fund as it determines resource allocations and to other countries as they consider replenishing their support.
My final point is that although the Government’s support for the global health fund is welcome, it is important to understand that that is not the only thing we need to do if we are to get on top of TB globally. Setting aside the action that needs to be taken domestically—Health Ministers are making progress on what needs to be done through a TB control programme—we cannot rely on the generous commitment to the global health fund for the international effort that is needed.
I want to raise the cause of an important programme run by the Stop TB Partnership called TB REACH, which addresses the problem of the missing 3 million cases to which the hon. Member for Scunthorpe referred. Until we find those who are affected by TB, we have no chance of treating them or getting hold of the disease. The power of TB REACH is that it funds innovative programmes on the ground that are finding new ways to go out and identify the missing 3 million cases. TB REACH has been robustly evaluated and shown to deliver value for money. It is relatively cost-effective, but its funding is coming to an end. TB REACH was largely set up with funding from the Canadian Government and now does not have sufficient funding to identify all the necessary cases. TB REACH has helped to identify some 500,000 cases in the past year, and it needs to do more. If we are serious about the level of the challenge we face, it would be worthwhile for the Government to seriously consider contributing to the ongoing work of TB REACH to ensure that the programme can survive.
Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Earlier this year I was a member of the parliamentary delegation that visited TB REACH in Awasa, in Ethiopia. TB REACH is doing outstanding work to find those missing people. I concur with the right hon. Gentleman and add my support. Hopefully the Government can find money to put into TB REACH, as it is not funded through the global health fund.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because that is precisely the point I am trying to make. I understand that TB REACH has helped to identify some 750,000 cases of TB and prevent those people from becoming infectious, as they would otherwise have continued to infect others.
The budget of TB REACH is relatively small. It is asking for $40 million a year. In the overall scale of the interventions that the west is now making to control the major diseases of HIV, malaria and TB, the funding is relatively small, although obviously it is not insignificant. The programme is worth while; I therefore ask the Minister to address that point. I have just written to the Secretary of State for International Development and hope to meet her to discuss TB REACH at this important moment, as the programme’s future is being considered.
I am grateful to the Government and to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the interest they have shown in TB. A few years ago, very little interest was shown in the disease, despite the huge interest shown in other international development issues. That has changed. I believe that the work of the all-party group has helped, as have the many non-governmental organisations that are supporting us—in particular, Results UK has played an important role in raising the profile of TB. We have a moral imperative to tackle the disease, and doing so is within our reach. It is now essential that we step up the efforts to ensure that it is not another 100 years before we beat a disease that the west once thought it had beaten.