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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
New hope for TB sufferers
TB patient
The spread of Aids in Africa means TB is on the rise
By Andrew Craig

Patients who have drug-resistant tuberculosis are to be given access to cheap drugs, in a deal reached between the World Health Organisation and several pharmaceutical companies.

Tuberculosis is becoming an increasing threat across the world.

The aim to to get some of the key drugs down to an affordable price

Medecins sans Frontieres spokesman
In rich countries, where it had become very rare in the past few decades, it is making a comeback, and in poor countries it has never gone away.

Its revival is partly due to HIV, which reduces people's immunity.

The usual strains of TB can be treated quite cheaply for just a few dollars.

But as TB spreads, drug-resistant strains are becoming increasingly common, and treating a patient with these can take years and cost thousands of dollars.

'Poor person's disease'

However, five drugs are now to be made available at cut rates in a partnership between the WHO and pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Jacobus Pharmaceutical.

We are a small company... we can afford to be reasonable with our prices

Dr David Jacobus
They will be made available in countries with high TB rates, including Russia, Peru and the Philippines.

The deal follows similar arrangements reached recently for Aids patients in poor countries to get drugs at low prices.

But charity workers say some drug companies are not pressing ahead with clinical trials of promising new treatments which they have developed in their labs.

Charities told New Scientist magazine that trials on patients are expensive, while TB is mainly a poor person's disease.

That means the companies are never likely to make huge profits from new drugs to treat it, as they do with medicines for diseases such as asthma, which are found mainly in affluent parts of the world.

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See also:

24 Mar 01 | Africa
World fighting growing TB threat
24 Mar 01 | Europe
Russia faces TB time bomb
24 Apr 01 | Africa
TB on rise in Africa
22 Jun 01 | Health
More accurate TB test unveiled
06 Apr 01 | Health
'I lost a lung to TB'
23 Oct 00 | Health
Sharp increase in tuberculosis
17 Aug 00 | Health
TB 'toughness gene' uncovered
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