Health experts call for action as Tower Hamlets ranked among worst London areas for TB

Tower Hamlets has a TB incident rate of 38.3 per 100,000 people Pic: Microbe World

Tower Hamlets has a TB incident rate of 38.3 per 100,000 people Pic: Microbe World

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Tower Hamlets is among the top ten worst London boroughs for Tuberculosis (TB), a recent report has found.

It has an incident rate of 38.3 cases per 100,000 people, which was considerably higher than the national average rate of 12 per 100,000 people between 2012 and last year, according to data from Public Health England (PHE).

The report also found most places in London had a higher average incident rate of TB than in other areas in England, with 28 out of London’s 32 boroughs higher than the national average.

Dr Onkar Sahota, London Assembly member and chair of the Health Committee, said: “It is astounding that TB is such a prevalent disease in London and that misconceptions about the disease are so common.”

These latest findings are not good news for Tower Hamlets, which is still tackling the TB problem.

EastLondonLines reported in 2012 that the borough saw a rise in TB cases when there was a decline in overall UK numbers.

Hackney is not far behind and is ranked 13th overall, with an average of 32.4 incidents of TB per 100,000 people.

Croydon was found to have an average rate of 27.6 and Lewisham 25.9.

Newham had the highest incident rate in London with an average of 100, with Richmond upon Thames having the lowest at 5.9.

The London Assembly said the bacterial infection is more likely to affect certain groups of people, such as refugees and migrants, and those with existing medical conditions including as HIV and diabetes.

“We know TB disproportionately affects prisoners, homeless people and people with substance abuse issues, and high quality TB care services are not universally available to all Londoners,” Sahota added.

It has been 12 years since the London Assembly Health committee last investigated TB, however it appears that many of the issues highlighted in that investigation remain a challenge.

In particular, the report said many Londoners, including some doctors, lack basic information about what TB is, its symptoms, and how it is spread.

Dr Jessica Potter, Medical Research Council fellow at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Tackling stigma and ensuring people understand what TB is and are aware of the symptoms and feel capable of seeking help for that, will need to be community-based and culturally relevant.”

PHE said the most common symptoms for TB include shortness of breath, coughing, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue.

It also warned that TB develops slowly and usually takes several months for symptoms to appear, and if left undiagnosed, a patient with infectious TB can infect 10 to 15 other close individuals over a year.

London’s health services spend an estimated £30 million a year on treating TB, the Assembly report claimed, and if drug-resistant strains become more widely prevalent in the community these costs will soar.

It also warned that resistant strains might continue to mutate to the point where they become untreatable with any drugs at all.

Dr Alistair Story of University College London Hospital said: “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.”

The report also made recommendations as to what can be done to tackle TB within the capital.

“The Mayor needs to take more accountability for TB control in London,” Sahota said.

“He is uniquely placed to drive forward measures for TB prevention, as well as better access to treatment.

“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.

Tower Hamlets Council has yet to respond to a request for a comment by EastLondonLines.

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