Ireland could be TB-free by 2030
We have spent billions trying to control and eliminate TB, but experts are quietly confident that eradication is back on the cards by 2030
Published 16/08/2016 | 02:30
In late 1965, then Agriculture Minister Charlie Haughey held a big party up in Government buildings to celebrate the end of a disease that had been the scourge of the country - bovine TB.
Laughable as it may appear nearly half a century later when the country still spends over €50m annually on trying to eradicate the disease, the late Mr Haughey hadn't completely lost his marbles when he believed that a TB-free Ireland was within touching distance.
Prior to the 1960s, TB had been one of the primary diseases responsible not just for tens of thousands of animals to be culled annually, it was also one of the biggest killers of humans.
Indeed, the disease is still responsible for over 4,000 deaths every day around the world. But in the late 1800s it was one of the biggest health issues in Irish 15-25 year olds, killing 11,500 people a year here.
Remarkably, this level of infection was even higher than in crowded developing world cities such as Kolkata (Calcutta).
In the early 1900s, scientists concluded that milk was the biggest transmitter, but it wasn't until the 1950s that TB testing became compulsory.
From a point in 1960 when a massive 160,000 TB reactors were recorded, the number of cases fell dramatically, to the point in 1965 when there were less than 30,000 reactors in the herd. Hence Mr Haughey's expectation that TB would be eradicated by 1969. And while reactors did fall as low as 21,000 in 1968, a dramatic rise followed, and the recriminations started.
A special task force with 50 fulltime vets was convened by the Government to figure out where the strategy was going wrong. No clear new policy emerged, and the reactors kept coming.