While global rates of tuberculosis are in decline, 2009 saw the UK’s highest level for 30 years. Yesterday was World TB Day, so what role has housing played in this problem, and how can it help us find a solution?
Ask someone in London what comes to mind at the mention of TB and they may mumble something about Victorian workhouses or distant countries. And they would almost be on to something - after all, as recently as the early 1980s, TB was considered largely banished from the UK.
Yet since then rates of this potentially fatal disease have risen, reaching a 30-year high of 9,000 cases in 2009. And just as improvements in housing and living conditions helped reduce TB rates in the middle of the 20th century, overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, and the presence of mould and smoke in the home have all contributed to the disease’s reccurrence in some urban communities.
Today, we can see policymakers are waking up to this threat. The London Health Inequalities Strategy, produced by the Greater London Assembly last year, argues that ‘inhabitants of overcrowded households have higher rates of respiratory and infectious diseases and mental health problems’.
For Archive (Architecture for Health In Vulnerable Environments), this is only the starting point. Archive prioritises the use of housing as a central strategy for preventing illness and providing care among the poor. We are working with the NHS and council partners in the London borough of Brent to overcome stigma and raise awareness of simple strategies around the home that can mitigate the threat of TB, such as maintaining ventilation and maximising direct sunlight.
World TB Day provides us all with the opportunity to reconnect health in our communities with the homes in which we live.
Tom Green is external relations officer at Archive