January 27, 2006
Gates Cash Kick-starts $31 bln TB Funding Drive
By Ben Hirschler
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp's founder Bill Gates pledged $900 million to fight tuberculosis on Friday, kick-starting a $31 billion funding drive against a disease which kills one person every 15 seconds.
Tuberculosis has reached alarming proportions in Africa and other poor countries, where co-infection with HIV/AIDS makes a deadly combination.
"This is a very tough disease. It is going to take all of us -- private sector, the pharmaceutical companies, philanthropy and governments in countries that have the disease -- to participate as well," Gates told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and British finance minister Gordon Brown called on world leaders to back the new World Health Organization action plan, which aims to treat 50 million people and prevent 14 million deaths worldwide over the next 10 years.
WHO believes the project can break the back of tuberculosis globally but full implementation would cost an estimated $56 billion over the next decade, including $47 billion for controlling the disease and $9 billion for research into new drugs and vaccines. That represents an overall increase of $31 billion over currently projected funding.
Marcos Espinal of the WHO said the first goal was to increase drug provision, since tuberculosis -- which is spread by coughing and sneezing -- was a curable disease in the vast majority of cases.
Most of the 2 million people who die of it each year live in the developing world.
New therapies are badly needed, too, because strains of tuberculosis are now circulating which are resistant to existing drugs, while the only vaccine available does not work very well.
Espinal said scientific research was now starting to deliver results, with a total of 27 new TB drugs in development and four vaccines in early-stage clinical trials.
Brown intends to put the case for new cash to fight the disease to next month's meeting of G8 finance ministers in Moscow. "If 2005 was the year of commitments, 2006 must be the year of delivery," he said.
"That's why, when the G8 finance ministers meet in Moscow in only a few days time, I will put on the agenda how we can meet the commitments to fund this specific plan."
Brown also said he would propose to the G8 ministers expanding a debt relief agreement made last year to some of the world's poorest nations.
Britain on Thursday pledged 41.7 million pounds ($74.43 million) to tackle tuberculosis in India.