Commons debates fight against TB for first time in 65 years

This Thursday, MPs from across the political spectrum participated in the first debate on Tuberculosis to take place in the House of Commons chamber in some 65 years.

The backbench business debate, which had been secured by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global TB, focused on forthcoming UN High Level Meeting on Tuberculosis, calling on the UK government to play a leading role and encouraging the Prime Minister to attend the meeting in person.

Opening the debate, APPG co-chair Nick Herbert MP, said: “We have made that major investment in the Global Fund. We are world leaders in international development. We set the agenda on antimicrobial resistance. We have a leadership position, and we should take it on this issue. TB is now the world’s deadliest infectious disease. This needs to support and attention of the world’s leaders. The UK is in a very powerful position to show that leadership and to give that support.”

To watch the debate in full, click here.

During the debate, a wide range of topics was covered. Both Louise Ellman MP (Liverpool Riverside, Lab/Co-Op) and Victoria Prentis MP (Banbury, Con) drew attention to the cutting-edge research being conducted in their respective constituencies. Their calls for the UK Government to maximise the impact of this research were echoed by Jim Shannon MP (Strangord, DUP), who emphasised the importance of innovation in the fight against global health threats such as TB and HIV, and called on the Government to ensure concrete commitments were made to close the persistent funding shortfall for TB research.

Dame Cheryl Gillan MP (Chesham and Amersham, Con) focused her remarks on the link between antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and drug-resistant TB. Drawing on her work with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, she called on further strengthening of surveillance and laboratory capacity, including through the UK’s Fleming Fund. These comments were echoed by Martyn Day MP (Linlithgow and East Falkirk, SNP), who referenced Scotland’s proud history in the fight against TB and highlighted the need to integrate TB within the UK’s world-leading programmes on AMR.

Sir Edward Davey MP (Kingston and Surbiton, LD), Sandy Martin MP (Ipswich, Lab) and Stephen Timms MP (East Ham, Lab) drew attention to the challenge still posed by TB in England, emphasising the need to see the high-level meeting in both a global and domestic context.

Members of the APPG on Global TB were joined by the co-chairs of both the APPG on HIV/AIDS, Stephen Doughty MP (Cardiff South and Penarth, Lab/Co-Op) and the APPG on Malaria and NTDs, Jeremy Lefroy MP (Stafford, Con), who drew attention to the links between the epidemics and emphasised the UK’s leadership on global health research and through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Stephen Twigg MP (Liverpool, West Derby, Lab/Co-Op), Chair of the International Development Select Committee, raised concerns over continued gaps in the global response to TB with a third of people with TB remaining undiagnosed and the Global Goal of ending TB set to be missed by some 150 years at current rates of progress. He called on the Government to ensure the High Level Meeting resulted in concrete commitments to rapidly scale up diagnosis and treatment. Jim Fitzpatrick MP (Poplar and Limehouse, Lab), called on the Department for International Development to demonstrate the same level of leadership for TB that it has shown on the HIV, Malaria and AMR, including through financial and diplomatic resources.

In her speech, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Kate Osamor MP (Edmonton, Lab/Co-Op) said that “the forthcoming United Nations high-level meeting on TB offers a truly unprecedented opportunity to transform the fight against TB… Every death from TB can be, and should have been, avoided”. Welcoming the work already done by the Department for International Development, Ms Osamor insisted that concrete commitments were made at the high-level meeting, to ensure heads of government from around the world were held accountable for stepping up efforts to end TB by 2030.

Harriet Baldwin, Minister of State, Department for International Development, answered the debate for the Government. Having welcomed the debate, she outlined the leadership already demonstrated by the UK Government and the impact of its sizeable investments in the fight against TB. She proceeded to give Parliament her assurance that “the UK will work closely with other member states to negotiate the commitments to be made in the political declaration of the meeting. In fact, I can assure on. Members that the entire diplomatic network will be engaged in ensuring that the declaration is ambitious, including through G7 and G20 discussions.”

Following the debate, the House passed the following motion:

That this House recognises that tuberculosis (TB) remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease, killing 1.7 million people a year; notes that at the current rate of progress, the world will not reach the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending TB by 2030 for another 160 years; believes that without a major change of pace 28 million people will die needlessly before 2030 at a global economic cost of £700 billion; welcomes the forthcoming UN high-level meeting on TB in New York on 26 September as an unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide against this terrible disease; further notes that the UN General Assembly Resolution encourages all member states to participate in the high-level meeting at the highest possible level, preferably at the level of heads of state and government; and calls on the Government to renew its efforts in the global fight against TB, boost research into new drugs, diagnostics and a vaccine, and for the Prime Minister to attend the UN high-level meeting