Immigrants targeted in moves to fight TB: Government task force set up to reverse return of disease

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is considering screening immigrants and refugees for tuberculosis in new measures to combat the return of the disease in Britain, it was disclosed by Baroness Cumberlege, the minister for health.

The screening of immigrants would be highly controversial. It is one of the options being studied by an inter-departmental task force on TB, which has been set up to consider further prevention measures.

Other options being studied include the need for guidance on local control procedures; the impact of TB on the homeless; the need to review control measures in prisons; and the need to review monitoring mechanisms.

The existence of the task force was disclosed in a letter by Baroness Cumberlege to Ian McCartney, a Labour spokesman on health, who is leading a campaign for more action to combat the disease.

Mr McCartney, who is being treated for TB, will be at the launch next week of the first clinical reference book on TB to be published in the UK for 40 years. He will use new research by a chest physician in Liverpool to highlight the problem.

He warned the Government to arrest the decline in funds for research and treatment for TB. 'It is a scandal that TB is now back in Britain,' he said. 'The setting up of the task force is a U-turn by the Government after decades of failure to take more effective action. They ought to implement an immunisation programme and to improve the public health of the nation.'

The resurgence of TB in Britain is being linked by Labour to recent findings showing that growing poverty is linked with illness since the Tories came to power.

Lady Cumberlege said Britain had an 'excellent record in combatting tuberculosis', but immunisation had been ended by some district health authorities following the sharp fall in notifications of TB in England and Wales in the 1960s. Cases fell from 25,000 in 1960 to 6,000 in 1983. Mr McCartney said one expert believed there were 8,000 cases last year.

This week it was dislcosed that 400 children at two secondary schools in Bournemouth, Dorset, were undergoing tests for TB after a part-time teacher was found to have the disease.

Lady Cumberlege said the Government was collating the results of a study of TB in 1983. But some districts had ignored advice to maintain programmes until at least 1995. 'Against this advice, some 15 districts abandoned their schools BCG programmes . . . All were in areas with a very low incidence of tuberculosis and all maintained a programme for immunising children at higher risk,' she said.

'Notifications have increased in the last three years, a trend seen throughout most of Europe. Although we have not seen the problems with multiple drug resistance or the strong link with HIV infection experienced in the US, we cannot afford to be complacent.'