Emma Thompson urges Londoners to get tested for TB

24 March 2016

Award-winning actress Emma Thompson, the Mayor of London’s TB Ambassador, is calling on Londoners to get tested for TB as she stars in a film about the disease to mark World TB Day today, 24th March.

The film, jointly commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Public Health England (PHE), follows Emma and her son Tindy Agaba as they travel to London’s Whittington Hospital to meet the consultants who treated Tindy when he was diagnosed and treated with Tuberculosis (TB) in 2011. The film will be used by PHE to raise awareness of the disease, which is more prevalent in London than any other capital in Western Europe. In 2014 there were 2,572 TB cases reported in London and while this has been a 15 per cent decrease from 2013, and a 26 per cent drop from 2012, rates remain highest in London compared to the rest of the UK.

Emma Thompson, who was appointed the Mayor’s TB ambassador in January 2015 to help challenge the stigma associated with the disease, said: “The scale of TB in a world class city like London is truly alarming and World TB Day is a great opportunity to get informed about this disease and see a doctor if you have any concerns. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB, and I urge all Londoners to get involved in this battle and rid it from our capital”.

Eight out of ten TB cases in London are people born abroad, but anyone can contract the disease. City Hall is working with bodies including PHE and University College London Hospitals (UCLH), to raise awareness of TB and urge Londoners to consult their GP if they have any symptoms.

In addition PHE and NHS England are supporting GPs to roll out screening for latent TB infection (LTBI) for 16-35 year olds who have recently arrived in England from high risk countries. LTBI is an asymptomatic phase of TB, which can later develop into active disease.  Testing in this way allows treatment to be given early, before symptoms begin. 

The new film launched today includes footage of Emma and Tindy meeting service users at the Whitechapel Mission homeless day centre earlier this year as they underwent X-Rays and received vaccines against flu and pneumonia in a mobile ‘Find & Treat’ screening unit, which travels the capital diagnosing and treating TB and other infectious diseases. The service works alongside a network of over 200 front line health and social care services to tackle TB in socially vulnerable groups who make up 10 per cent of London’s cases, such as the homeless, vulnerable migrants or those with drug and alcohol problems.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE in London, said:

“We have already begun to see encouraging decreases in TB rates thanks to the dedicated work of agencies involved in preventing, controlling and treating TB in London. However TB rates in London still remain among the highest in Western Europe and to achieve further decreases and reduce inequalities associated with the disease, we must ensure that preventing, controlling and treating TB remains a public health priority.

“Key areas we are focusing on to combat TB in London and support the National TB Strategy include raising awareness, earlier diagnosis, better treatment and working with GPs to deliver targeted testing and treatment for latent TB infection, which can remain dormant for many years before active TB develops.

“With partners at the GLA, we’re taking the opportunity on World TB Day to further raise awareness of the disease by releasing a film featuring actress Emma Thompson and her son Tindy, who was diagnosed with TB in 2011. Increased awareness and earlier diagnosis are vital if we want to turn the tide of tuberculosis in London.”

Notes to editors

MEDIA INFORMATION

For more information please email [email protected] or call Sarah Hitchings on 020 7983 4186.

  1. The new TB film can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/IMybhqoZ75I
  2. Find out more about World TB Day here: http://www.stoptb.org/events/world_tb_day/
  3. Public Health England and NHS England launched a national TB Strategy in January 2015, one part of which aims to address socially vulnerable and under-served groups. The Collaborative TB Strategy for England can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/403231/Collaborative_TB_Strategy_for_England_2015_2020_.pdf
  4. In January 2015 the Find & Treat service launched a new, state of the art van at Portcullis House. Tindy Agaba attended this event with Victoria Borwick, who was then Deputy Mayor of London.
  5. The 2014 annual review of TB in London can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484927/Annual_review_of_tuberculosis_in_London_2014_data.pdf
  6. You can find out more about latent TB infection on the PHE website here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tuberculosis-screening#latent-tb-infection-ltbi
  7. Of Western European capitals, London has the second highest rate of TB behind Lisbon (see figure 4, p.8 of the Collaborative TB Strategy for England), but London has the highest number of cases.
  8. Most TB cases in London occur amongst specific risk groups, such as people with close links to countries with a high TB burden (often settled migrants from such countries who experience reactivation of latent TB infection which they acquired many years previously, and who make up 82 per cent of cases) and people with social risk factors such as homelessness, a history of imprisonment or problem drug or alcohol use, who make up 10 per cent of cases.