Rebekah Cutter works with Leeds City Council’s public health team. She tells us about a disease still infecting people in Leeds…
World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, aims to build global public awareness that tuberculosis (TB) today remains an epidemic in much of the world. While TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, an estimated 49 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2015.
TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body, including the tummy (abdomen) glands, bones and nervous system. It is a serious condition, but it can be cured if it’s treated with the right antibiotics.
There’s a common misconception about TB that it is a historic disease with no place in modern society in 2017, but England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe. Focusing on Yorkshire and the Humber, latest data shows 440 cases of TB reported during 2015 (an incidence rate of 8.2 cases per 100,000 people in the population). That’s a decrease from the 524 cases reported the previous year when the incidence was 9.8 cases per 100,000 people in the population, but still lots of people with a disease that can have life-changing consequences.
NHS England and Public Health England have a goal to eradicate TB – an ambitious goal for one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. We’re playing our part in Leeds. The Leeds City Council’s Health Protection team has pioneered a community based communication approach of informed ‘TB Champions’ from under-served migrant populations. This innovative low cost and high impact approach is increasing awareness of latent TB infection (LTBI), promoting the uptake of screening and treatment compliance.
TB Champions are volunteers from communities where there are more migrants from countries with a high incidence of TB. They get training that covers basic awareness of TB, local screening arrangements and the treatment available. As misinformation can embody and reinforce social isolation and discrimination, dispelling myths and reinforcing key messages is a critical component of the training. The Champions support their community with key messages, such as TB being preventable, curable and that screening and treatment are free. TB Champions often get a chance to share messages by attending events such as religious meetings and community meetings and they usually volunteer within their community in other capacities. All this means this role complements their existing status as trusted members of the community and supports the sustainability of the approach.
When engaging with the community the Champions raise awareness of TB and LTBI, along with promoting registering with a GP. So far the project has 37 TB Champions and they have have spoken to 351 people that meet the LTBI screening criteria over a 4 month period.
The theme of today’s World TB Day is ‘Unite to end TB’, which is fitting to the ‘Champions’ project that is a collaboration involving Leeds City Council, NHS Leeds Community Healthcare, NHS Leeds South and East Clinical Commissioning Group and most importantly a range of Third Sector groups and projects. There’s lots of hard work being done across the city to end TB among the many partners involved and if we all play our part we can all help achieve that goal.
If you would like to find out more information about the project or be a TB Champion yourself, please contact Rebekah Cutter at firstname.lastname@example.org