Tuberculosis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 7th June 2018.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:23 pm, 7th June 2018

Sometimes we come to a debate in the House of Commons and really learn things. I am grateful for the speeches that we have heard so far, because I have learned a lot. I particularly learned about the work that Nick Herbert has done and I pay huge tribute to him not just for securing this debate, but for that. The fact that parliamentarians from this House work around the world to tackle this incredible disease is a tribute to the House and, of course, to him.

It is also great that this country, with cross-party support for the 0.7% of GDP, is enabled through DFID to take a leadership role. One of the reasons we should always defend the cross-party achievement of raising the level of spending on overseas aid is that it can do such a huge amount of good. The relatively small sums of money that are spent on research into TB, for example, can do such a huge amount of good—the value for money is unquestionable.

That is what I want to pick up on in the first part of my remarks. The right hon. Gentleman talked about this concern in reference to Lord O’Neill’s report: although we are having some success, the danger is that with drug-resistant TB, the success will be reversed. Therefore, the urgent need to redouble our efforts, either through DFID funding or by working with others at the UN, could not be greater. If there is one thing that I would urge the Minister to do, not only in replying to this debate but when she goes back to Whitehall, it is to see what more we can do on that. There is some fantastic work, including the trials that we saw in 2013 and 2014, and the trials that are ongoing, which will not report for a few years. There is the work that Médecins sans Frontières and some of the great scientists in our universities are doing. We need to make sure that that concludes and helps us to produce the new drugs that will be essential to avoiding, frankly, a global pandemic, if we are not careful. Remember that this is an infectious disease that kills more people than any other infectious disease in the world, so the importance of that work cannot be underestimated.

I want to turn back to this country, following on from the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman, the mover of the motion. This is a disease that hits the poorest in society, whether in developing countries or in the UK. We have had real success in this country in reducing the incidence—it has fallen by nearly 40% in the last six years—and we should pay tribute to Public Health England, the NHS and all the people who are working to bring that about. However, one group in our society is not seeing a reduction—that is, the very poorest. Homeless people, drug and alcohol addicts, prisoners and destitute migrants are not seeing any reduction, and one can sort of understand why. Their need for formal healthcare is much greater. A homeless person is twice as likely to die from TB as any other person who contracts TB, so we have to look at that group of people.

Some work is being pushed, and Governments have responded to this need. In particular, I want to bring the work of the London find and treat team to the House’s attention. The team have just one van. They have a mobile digital X-ray unit, and they find, diagnose and enable people to access the healthcare that they need. Remember that this is an infectious disease, so it is really important that we find and treat, so that we help those people to help wider society.

I have one spending request for the Minister. There has been a pledge that there will be more money for these find and treat teams in the UK, so that we can help the most vulnerable in society who are contracting this disease, among whom the incidence of TB has not gone down. I do not believe that this is a massive spending request, but if we could find a bit more to help those find and treat teams—indeed, to expand their work so that it is not just on TB, but on one or two other infectious disease that have high incidences—that would be a tremendous advance, and I am sure that it would get cross-party support. The Minister may not be able to answer that today, but if she could say that that outreach work could be a real boon and talk to colleagues about it, I would be grateful.

I end by paying tribute to those from this House who have done such great work around the world. It is truly impressive.