MP warns of ‘catastrophic’ inaction on TB as he prepares to take fight to United Nations

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MP Nick Herbert is calling for countries around the globe to back his efforts to rid the world of tuberculosis (TB).

The disease killed 1.8million people in 2015, but Mr Herbert said it does not get the attention it should because of a lack of celebrity endorsement.

Can you imagine if tomorrow the World Health Organisation announced there was a new disease and it was going to kill nearly two-million people?

Nick Herbert MP

The Arundel and South Downs MP said: “Most people do not realise TB is the world’s deadliest disease in terms of transmittable diseases.

“We thought we had beaten it in the 1950s but it has resurged globally.”

TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.

Mr Herbert, who co-chairs the all party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis and launched the Global TB Caucus, has been committed to finding a cure for the deadly disease for 12 years.

It stems from a trip he took as newly elected MP to Kenya, where he visited a TB clinic where people were being treated three to a be.

“What we saw was terrible, it made a very big impression on me,” said Mr Herbert.

“Whenever anyone talks about the NHS delivering ‘third world healthcare’ it makes me terribly angry.

“It is wrong to describe the NHS in that way and it does not show an undertsanding of the problems there are in other countries.”

After witnessing the scale of the problem first-hand, Mr Herbert decided to act.

He helped set up the all party group on tuberculosis and raised the issue in the House of Commons.

A roadblock he has faced is the lack of public knowledge about the disease, with many believing TB is something out of a history book.

He said: “Can you imagine if tomorrow the World Health Organisation announced there was a new disease and it was going to kill nearly two-million people?

“There would be bedlam. There would be a global emergency and resources would be diverted to this.”

But, Mr Herbert added: “That is what we have.”

While a vaccine against the disease – the BCG – exists, our own NHS states it is rarely effective in adults.

Mr Herbert said the absence of an adult vaccine was making the disease even harder to fight, and he added he believes pharmaceutical companies see no real market for a solution.

This, Mr Herbert said, is because TB is mostly found in developing countries, although it is seen elsewhere.

He added: “This is a disease of the poor and perhaps that is why it does not have the attention it needs.

As well as his work with the parliamentary group, Mr Herbert formed the Global TB Caucus three years ago, alongside Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, minister of health for South Africa.

Through this group, Mr Herbert and others have been able to take the fight against TB to the world stage.

He welcomed ministers from around the world to Wiston House, near Steyning, in June, to discuss the issue.

And just last month the MPvisited Washington DC. In November, Mr Herbert is due to speak at a global TB conference in Moscow, which will serve as a warm-up event to the first ever UN General Assembly meeting on the fight against TB next year.

Mr Herbert said: “Just saying it is an issue is not enough, it needs a concrete plan of action.”

According to Mr Herbert, the UK Government has been supportive, recently committing more than £1billion to fighting TB.

He said a vaccine is needed before a drug-resistant strain of TB becomes widespread.

“No epidemic has ever been beaten without a vaccine,” he added. “The costs of drug resistance would be catastrophic.”

He said the cost of beating TB would be ‘relatively small’ compared to money spent on other diseases.

Mr Herbert also clarified human TB and bovine TB are not the same disease, although a vaccine for one would likely work for the other.