Rates of tuberculosis have been steadily rising in the UK for the last 20 years to the point where there are now over 9000 new cases every year. Anyone can catch TB – an airborne disease – but in the UK the TB burden falls especially hard on certain groups of people who often suffer from health inequalities. These include some ethnic minority groups, particularly those with links to regions with high burden levels of TB. Non-UK born residents are also especially at risk of becoming sick from TB, usually several years after they arrive in Britain.
The most recent Health Protection Agency report on tuberculosis in the UK provides statistics showing the disproportionate impact of TB on ethnic minority communities. Rates of TB are highest among the population born outside Britain. UK-born ethnic minority groups are also more at risk than the white UK-born population. Black and Asian communities in the UK often have family or personal links, and are more likely to travel to, communities in poorer regions of the world which lack health services meaning that preventable diseases like tuberculosis to flourish.
What is being done to support populations in the UK at a higher risk of TB? The UK charity, TB Alert, is one organisation which runs programmes and produces materials to help raise awareness of TB. Much of this work focuses on groups, including ethnic minority communities, which suffer health inequalities and are more at risk from tuberculosis. Hopefully this good work and similar initiatives in the future will help to ensure communities and health professionals are more aware of issues surrounding TB, and community groups begin to demand better TB prevention and treatment services from those in power.
This concern should not stop at our own borders. There’s a saying that ‘TB somewhere, is TB everywhere’. We need to tackle global health inequalities, as well as those within our borders, if we are to end deaths from this preventable, but devastating disease.