Every year over 1 million people die from a disease that many people consider to have already been eradicated. Tuberculosis (TB) is airborne, infectious, drug-resistant and found in every country in the world, and yet in the UK, more people associate it with badgers than they do with humans.
This World TB Day, 24th March, parliamentarians from around the world have come together to call for renewed action against the disease. The statement has been signed by over 130 representatives from across the G7 countries and the European Parliament.
Stephen Timms MP, one of the first MPs to sign the statement, said: “TB has killed more people than any other infectious disease in history and still kills 1.3 million people every single year. The only way that we’re going to beat the disease is if we have coordinated, global action.”
Members of the UK House of Commons and House of Lords make up over half of all the politicians who have signed the statement, reflecting the fact that TB remains a significant problem here in the UK. Parts of the country have rates to match those found in some of the worst affected countries in the world, and London has the highest rates of any capital city in Western Europe. East Ham has the third highest rate of TB of any constituency in the country.
“People just don’t appreciate what a problem TB really is,” said Mr Timms, “East Ham has some of the highest levels in the country, and rates comparable to the most heavily affected parts of the world, yet most people couldn’t tell you what the symptoms are. We need to do a lot more to raise the profile of the disease both among the public and in political circles.”
East Ham has the third highest rate of TB of any constituency in the country. Newham as a whole is the worst affected health authority in the UK and rates have been rising steadily for the last decade.
“TB is treatable and curable,” said Mr Timms, “But the disease is evolving all the time and drug-resistance is becoming a real threat all around the world including right here in the UK. At the moment levels of drug-resistance in Newham are around the national average, but we need to work hard to ensure that they don’t get any higher.”
“There is a lot we need to tackle the disease, but it all starts with political commitment.” Said Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of RESULTS UK, an NGO that works on TB. “Local MPs can make a fantastic difference, whether that’s advocating for local issues or working together to call for global action as they have done signing this statement.”