Mayor’s TB Ambassador visits The Whitechapel Mission
British actress Emma Thompson visited the Whitechapel Mission and called on Londoners to get tested for TB as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the disease, which is more prevalent in London than any other capital in Western Europe.
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 London 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 double Oscar winner and her son Tindy Agaba visited a mobile “Find & Treat” screening unit at The Whitechapel Mission. The unit travels the capital city diagnosing and treating TB and other infectious diseases. The visit came as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published updated guidance to better treat and prevent TB.
Speaking to East London News the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Emmy winner said: “I’m here with my son Tindy. We are TB Ambassadors for London, appointed by the Mayor of London and we’re here to highlight the whole issue of TB. In London there is an epidemic here that hasn’t been seen literally in decades and the rate of infection here is higher than in sub Saharan Africa, which is really saying something.
“We are at Whitechapel with the Find & Treat service van, which is a fantastically effective tool used by the NHS to find people who are in vulnerable groups and treat them. We are highlighting that today, and hopefully they will help not only Londoners who are vulnerable to this disease but also help GPs who are not necessarily aware that it is growing at the rate that it’s growing.
“So we’re here to shed a light on it and tell people not to be scared of it. It’s just a disease, it’s just a bacterium which is eminently treatable, but if you don’t seek treatment it will get worse and then you’re in danger of becoming very ill and possibly dying and also infecting your family and people near you. The Find & Treat service is completely confidential. It takes 30 seconds to have the X-ray done and it’s so easy to get the treatment to make you better. Many people who get treated on this van go on to improve so many other aspects of their lives and make themselves much less vulnerable to other forms of infection and misfortune.
“Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB, a battle which I am deeply committed to 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.”
Thompson’s son Tindy speaks from experience: “It’s so much better to seek early treatment. Early diagnosis can prevent a lot of hardship. The faster this is done, it’s much easier to treat themselves.”
In 2014 there were 2,572 TB cases reported in London. While eight out of ten TB cases in London are in people born abroad, anyone can contract TB. The London Mayor is working with bodies including Public Health England and University College London Hospitals (UCLH) to raise awareness of the disease and encourage people to consult their GP if they have any symptoms.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson MP 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.”
Operating across London since 2005, the Find & Treat service works alongside a network of over 200 front line health and social care services to tackle TB in socially vulnerable groups such as the homeless, vulnerable migrants or those with drug and alcohol problems, who make up 10% 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 over 300 of the most socially complex cases every year. By addressing the lifestyle factors that put people at increased risk of TB, 84% 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: “The UCLH Find & Treat team is 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.”
Dr Yvonne Doyle, London Regional Director for Public Health England and the London Mayor’s Health Adviser, said: “TB has declined in London in recent years but we still had over 2,500 cases last year and continue to have the highest proportion of cases in the country, at 40%. With the second highest rate of TB in a western Europe capital we will ensure that TB control remains our priority so that we can achieve further decreases and reduce inequalities associated with the disease. Emma and Tindy’s involvement to help raise awareness of TB amongst Londoners is a real asset and brings home the message that anyone can be affected by TB.”