January 27, 2006

DAVOS-Gates cash kick-starts TB funding drive

By Ben Hirschler

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. 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.