Emma Thompson meets TB patients 

13/01/2016 00:00 
Award-winning British actress Emma Thompson and her son Tindy Agaba visited UCLH’s Find and Treat service today in a bid to raise awareness of tuberculosis in London in their role as the Mayor’s TB ambassadors.

The visit came as London mayor Boris Johnson urged more people to get tested for TB as part of his campaign to raise awareness of the disease, which is more prevalent in London than any other capital in Western Europe.

The mobile Find & Treat screening unit plays a key role in managing TB in London, as it travels the capital diagnosing and treating TB and other infectious diseases in some of the poorest communities.

Also today, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published updated guidance to better treat and prevent TB.

The new NICE guideline focuses on prevention and education. It highlights the need to search out active cases in the communities most at risk. It also recommends that the treatment of latent TB (when the patient is infected with TB but does not show symptoms and is not yet infectious) be extended from people aged 35 years and under to 65 years and under. A course of medication for latent TB is shorter, easier to stick to and cheaper than the subsequent treatment required should the disease become active and infectious.

In 2014 there were 2,572 TB cases reported in London and, while eight out of 10 TB cases in London are in people born abroad, anyone can contract TB. The Mayor is working with bodies including Public Health England and UCLH to raise awareness of the disease, and encourage people to consult their GP if they have any symptoms.

Emma Thompson has a special interest in TB after her son Tindy was diagnosed and treated for the disease by UCLH doctors in 2011. Appointed the Mayor’s TB ambassador in January 2015 to help raise awareness of the disease among Londoners and challenge the stigma associated with it, Emma met service users at the Whitechapel Mission homeless day centre today as they underwent X-Rays and received vaccines against flu and pneumonia. The visit formed part of a project to develop a short film with Public Health England to raise awareness of TB among Londoners.

The mayor said: “It’s essential that Londoners know the symptoms of TB and where to go for help if we’re to rid the capital of this debilitating disease. Whilst TB rates in London have dropped over the last three years, it is unacceptable that our great city still has some of the highest levels in Western Europe. The Find & Treat service is making a real difference by diagnosing and treating hard-to-reach communities across the capital. Emma and Tindy are doing a great job raising awareness of this illness and I urge all Londoners to remember that anyone can become infected with TB and to get tested if they have any concerns.”

Emma said: “Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB, a battle to which I  am deeply committed after my son Tindy’s experience of the disease. The Find & Treat service plays an invaluable role in reaching out to all sections of our community, providing support and raising awareness of how important it is to get tested, get treated and get cured. It is already making a huge difference, screening thousands of people and helping them return to health. The scale of TB in such a developed, world-class city as London is truly alarming and I will continue to work with the Mayor to keep this disease at the top of the health agenda.”

Operating across London since 2005, the Find & Treat service works alongside a network of more than 200 frontline health and social care services to tackle TB in socially vulnerable groups such as the homeless, migrants or those with drug and alcohol problems, who make up 10 per cent of London’s TB cases. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB and the Find & Treat team screens almost 10,000 high-risk Londoners each year in their mobile units, immediately referring those who need further care.

The team, which includes former TB patients who work as peer advocates, specialist nurses, social and outreach workers, radiographers and technicians, supports TB services in London and beyond to manage more than 300 of the most socially complex cases every year. By addressing the lifestyle factors that put people at increased risk of TB, 84 per cent of the patients found by the Find & Treat vans have successfully completed treatment and many have broken cycles of addiction and homelessness.

Dr Alistair Story, Clinical Lead for the Find & Treat service at UCLH said: “We are delighted to welcome Emma Thompson and Tindy Agaba to the frontline of TB control in London. The Mobile Health Unit regularly visits the Whitechapel Mission to provide on-the-spot TB checks and other essential care as part of our routine services for homeless people across London. TB is an infectious airborne disease that remains a very real threat to public health in London and we work hard to make sure that those most at risk can get diagnosed early and cured.”

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