• Neil Kirton
Associate Minister of Health

Associate Health Minister Neil Kirton says there was a slight drop in the number of tuberculosis cases last year compared with the year before.

There were 356 tuberculosis cases and eight deaths last year compared with 374 cases in 1995.

Unfortunately, the trend for tuberculosis cases in New Zealand is expected to rise as the effects of this global epidemic continue to be felt.

Tuberculosis is thought to be more common among recent immigrants from Asia and Africa. Approximately six out of every ten cases are individuals born overseas and a similar proportion develop the disease within five years of coming to New Zealand. Maori and Pacific Islands people are also more likely to contract the disease than Europeans.

Mr Kirton says World TB Day presents a good opportunity to take stock of existing control measures for this disease.

New Zealand has a good record in controlling the disease. The disease is curable in the vast majority of patients with appropriate courses of antibiotics. Control measures include identification, treatment and notification which enables contact tracing of further individuals for preventative treatment to prevent further spread.

Mr Kirton says considerable work is underway by both the Ministry of Health and the Immigration Service on further border control measures to help limit the spread of the disease.

Among the controls measures being considered are improved health checks before coming to New Zealand or post entry follow up care.

Its clear that health screening at the border is not the whole answer. In many cases this would not detect TB in a latent or uninfectious phase. There is also considerable debate about the usefulness of the current health immigration data.

For instance at the moment it is unclear whether there are some instances where TB in migrants has been contracted in New Zealand or overseas.

Initiatives currently underway include:

a trial of free medical checks offered to people seeking refugee status on arrival
a trial of shorter limits on the length of time visitors from specified countries are allowed to remain in New Zealand without a health check
better data on the immigration status and length of residence in New Zealand of individuals with TB
better information on the number of people coming to live in New Zealand who have a previous history of TB.
The results of these initiatives will be available later this year and will be used to develop or modify tuberculosis control programmes.