TB in the UK Parliamentary Meeting – Why? Who? What?

The APPG on Global TB, met in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the alarming rapid increase in cases of TB in the UK.  Over the last 20 years cases of this ‘forgotten disease’ have steadily increased.  2009 saw a greater than 5% jump taking the number of new cases to over 9000.  There are now more new cases of TB in the UK every year than new cases of HIV.

APPG vice-Chair, Virendra Sharma, MP chaired the event which was attended by several parliamentarians and many members of health agencies working on TB.  Four speakers gave presentations at the event – Dr Priscila Nkwenti  – Chief Executive of the Black Health Agency, Mike Mandelbaum – Chief Executive of TB Alert, Al Story – Clinical Lead at the Find and Treat Project, and David Olapoju – one of the Find and Treat Project’s Peer Educators.

The meeting sought to address the questions of ‘WHY rates are increasing’, ‘WHO is most at risk’ and ‘WHAT can be done to address this’.  Priscilla Nkwenti spoke about TB in the black and Asian community and some of the specific reasons that people from these communities are more at risk from TB. While foreign born populations and more frequent contact with countries with a high burden of TB are important causes, her experience from working on HIV/AIDS in similar communities suggests that cultural factors and stigma, as well as social issues and awareness among health professionals is also crucial.

Mike Mandelbaum built on the points made by Dr Nkwenti and spoke specifically about TB Alert’s work on raising awareness and community engagement around TB.  He called for a shift in the way we view the disease in Britain from a purely clinical issue towards wider community engagement on the causes and treatments of tuberculosis.  This need for community engagement makes working with third sector organisations which are already close to community groups vital.

Alistair Story, discussed the work of the Find and Treat team – detecting, referring and following up treatment for homeless people with TB.  In a similar theme to the work discussed in tackling the disease among ethnic minority communities, Alistair Story called for TB services to be taken out of the hospital setting, which those with chaotic lifestyles find hard to access, and proactively towards the groups most affected.   The Mobile X-Ray Screening Unit, which is run by the Find and Treat team, screen up to 10,000 people per year and 10% of those diagnosed have multi-drug resistant TB.  Finally, Alistair argued that it was a false economy to cut spending on TB outreach services, particularly given the cost of treating a patient with MDR TB – ‘spend now to save later’ was the clear message given to the audience.

Following the event members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB will continue their work calling for more effective services to address the rising problem of tuberculosis in the UK.

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