Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 7th June 2018.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 1:31 pm, 7th June 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
recognises that tuberculosis (TB) remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease, killing 1.7 million people a year;
notes that at the current rate of progress, the world will not reach the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending TB by 2030 for another 160 years;
believes that without a major change of pace 28 million people will die needlessly before 2030 at a global economic cost of £700 billion;
welcomes the forthcoming UN high-level meeting on TB in New York on 26 September as an unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide against this terrible disease;
further notes that the UN General Assembly Resolution encourages all member states to participate in the high-level meeting at the highest possible level, preferably at the level of heads of state and government;
and calls on the Government to renew its efforts in the global fight against TB, boost research into new drugs, diagnostics and a vaccine, and for the Prime Minister to attend the UN high-level meeting.

The motion stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend Mr Sharma, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this debate on ending tuberculosis.

I believe that this is the first time that this issue has been debated on the Floor of this House for 65 years. Responding to an Adjournment debate in 1952, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Commander T.D. Galbraith, said:

“Tuberculosis is still the major health problem in Scotland…we must press forward…with every weapon that is available to us until the disease, which is said to be preventable, has been eradicated.”—[Official Report, 29 January 1952; Vol. 495, c. 158.]

At that time, people were optimistic because antibiotics had been discovered and put into mass production, housing was improving and there was no longer any reason to believe that tuberculosis would not be beaten. Tuberculosis was the great killer of history. A disease that dates back at least 7,000 years, it has killed 2 billion people in the last two centuries alone. John Bunyan said that TB was

“the captain of all these men of death”.

TB—otherwise known as consumption or the white death—is caused by a tiny bacteria. When it was first identified in 1882, it was still killing one in seven people. Indeed, TB killed more people in the United States in the late 19th century than any other disease. It is a disease that has killed kings, poets and paupers throughout history. Tutankhamun, Edward VI, Cardinal Richelieu, Eleanor Roosevelt, Keats, Chekhov, Emily Brontë, D. H. Lawrence, Orwell and Chopin all died from TB. Of course, the heroines of the operas “La bohème” and “La traviata” notoriously die from tuberculosis. That was expected in that age, which was not so long ago. Millions of others down the ages have suffered from TB—notably, Nelson Mandela, who suffered greatly from it.

With better housing, better nutrition, the discovery of penicillin by Fleming in 1928, and the mass production of antibiotics in the 1940s, it was thought that tuberculosis would be beaten. In 1962, a Nobel laureate virologist said:

“To write about infectious disease is almost to write of something that has passed into history.”

But TB was not eradicated or eliminated at all. It resurged on the back of the AIDS epidemic. TB is a bug carried by a third of the world’s population that can exist in our bodies latently, but strikes when immune systems are compromised.