An “astounding” London Assembly report shows a third of London boroughs exceed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) “high incidence” threshold of tuberculosis, and some wards within Hounslow, Brent, Harrow, Newham and Ealing have rates of more than 150 incidents per 100,000 people. Mayor Boris Johnson is being told to “get a grip” of the situation before it is too late.
Tuberculosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria which normally affects the lungs, is spread by coughs and sneezes. Most people who contract the disease do so after prolonged exposure to an infected person. Those most at risk have low immune systems and include prisoners, drug addicts, the homeless, refugees and migrants, reports The Daily Telegraph.
After HIV/Aids tuberculosis is the greatest single infectious agent killer worldwide and is now identified as “a highly significant public health challenge” in London today.
London as a whole had more than 2,500 new cases of tuberculosis in the last year, about 40 per cent of the UK’s total. Within that global figure there were serious local discrepancies with a third of the city’s boroughs exceeding the WHO “high incidence” threshold of over 40 cases per 100,000 people.
The five boroughs with wards recording the highest tuberculosis rates, more than 150 infections per 100,000 people, far exceeded rates WHO figures from 2013 for Iraq (45 per 100,000), Rwanda (69) and Eritrea (92).
In past investigations it was estimated that half those afflicted by tuberculosis in the borough of Newham were asylum seekers from India, Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa. Most were said to arrive carrying the bug in its latent form, but develop symptoms in overcrowded housing conditions.
The chairman of the London Assembly Health Committee, Labour Party Assembly Member Dr. Onkar Sahota, called the findings “astounding” and called on Boris Johnson to act on what he describes as a “barometer of health inequality.” Launching the report Dr. Sahota warned:
“If we don’t get a grip on London’s TB situation now, the harder and more expensive it will be to tackle in the years to come. With pressures on health budgets, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball.
“The mayor needs to take more accountability for TB control in London. He is uniquely placed to drive forward measures for TB prevention, as well as better access to treatment.”
In the report a specialist doctor was quoted saying:
“We have the largest outbreak of drug-resistant TB ever documented in Western Europe in London and plenty of evidence that current efforts to contain transmission, even occurring at household level, are insufficient.”
A City Hall spokeswoman said: “The Mayor takes the issue of TB seriously and recognises that it is a significant health challenge for London.
“Recent figures show that, in the three years to 2014, the number of people infected in the capital has fallen but the Mayor remains committed to tackling TB and is assured by Public Health England that every effort continues to be made to prevent and treat the disease in London.”