Poverty fuels the rise of TB in Britain

TUBERCULOSIS, a disease inextricably linked with poverty, has begun to reassert itself in Britain after declining for more than a century.

The number of incidents of the disease, commonly known as TB, stabilised in the mid-1980s, but in England and Wales the reported cases increased by 4 per cent each year between 1987 and 1991.

A study published in the British Medical Journal last week revealed that, despite the upsurge in cases, 13 health authorities were considering withdrawing their school vaccination programmes, while 15 had done so already.

Scientists at the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, based in north London, who carried out the survey of 186 authorities, also discovered that new-born babies in high-risk groups were going without vital protection.

In Britain, TB was first brought under control just before the turn of the century, and more particularly during the 1940s with specific chemotherapy and in the 1950s with the BCG immunisation programme for schoolchildren aged 13. Latterly, the immunisation of babies in high-risk groups was considered an important factor in the battle.

Yet, in the first six months of this year, 2,951 cases were reported in England and Wales, and projections show that if the numbers continue to increase at the same rate, it would mean an overall rise of about 10 per cent on the previous year.

TB strikes most often in deprived inner-city areas, and particularly among the elderly.

The Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended in 1990 that the schools immunisation programme should continue for another five years, advice that is now being ignored in some quarters.

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