Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Monday, 13 February 2006

Hopes rise for 'victory' against TB

Asylum seekers in the French port of Calais
The UK Conservative party argues immigrants should be screen for TB
The launch of a new global effort to attack TB - announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month - has led some experts to predict "victory" over the disease by the middle of the century.

The Global Plan to Stop TB was launched amidst much fanfare, with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates announcing that he personally was donating $600m to it.

Although it has attracted less notice than diseases like Aids/HIV and malaria, the number of instances of tuberculosis have been rising again after years of decline, now killing two million people every year.

"This Global Plan is really a recipe of success," Patrick Bertrand, who works in Paris for the Massive Effort Campaign - an organisation that deals with combating the world's major diseases - told BBC World Service's Analysis programme.

"The plan will save about 40 million lives, treat around 50 million people, and provide anti-retrovirals to three million patients who have HIV and TB.

"It will introduce the first new TB drug for 40 years in 2010, and by 2015 develop a new, safe, effective and affordable vaccine."

Breaking the epidemic

The Global Plan to stop TB centres on a strategy known as DOTS, which enlists government support to diagnose cases of TB early - and ensure that the patient then completes their treatment.

Where this strategy has already been implemented, up to 95% of cases are cured - and the cost of the six-month course of drugs can be as little as ten dollars.

However, the rest of the Global Plan is more complicated and more expensive.

Bill Gates
The neglect of this is terms of new technologies has been pretty incredible
Bill Gates
As well as driving to improve the healthcare and drugs available, the importance of the link with HIV infection is being addressed with plans to expand access to anti-retroviral drugs that strengthen patients' immune systems.

Dr Christopher Dye, the World Health Organisation's expert on TB, said that the impact of such a concerted effort could be dramatic.

"What we want to do is to break the back of this epidemic," he stated.

"We want to see the number of cases coming down within ten years, and that should easily be possible with the resources that we've got.

"About two million people still die of the disease each year. It should be possible easily to cut that in half within ten years.

"There is an aim to eliminate TB by the middle of this century, but we're putting that particular problem on a back burner at the moment."

'Disease of poverty'

However, in total, the Global Plan will cost $56bn over the next ten years.

While a lot of money has already been committed - including Gates' $600m - there is still a shortfall of over half what is needed; in total, $31bn is still required.

"The neglect of this is terms of new technologies has been pretty incredible," Gates said.

"The test for TB is 100 years old. The vaccine, which is only partially effective, it has not been improved, it's the same as eighty years ago and we haven't had new drugs."

Woman with TB
Critics say TB will not be eradicated without efforts to battle poverty
Campaigners argue that TB will continue to be a problem in developed countries as long as it exists in the wider world, and that unless TB is eradicated globally, even the richest cities cannot escape.

Cities like London and New York for instance, will always have great numbers of people from countries where TB is a large-scale problem either travelling through, visiting, or coming for work.

However, Dr Jayent Balavaliker of the RB TB Hospital in Delhi - the biggest hospital in Asia - warned that it would take a real reduction in poverty to make an impact on TB.

"In a slum, you have a congregation of people around and each room is inhabited by around six to eight people, so the more people are in the area the more is the transmission of the disease," he explained.

"It spreads like wildfire the more the people are there. Added to it again is the malnutrition and other factors which help in the transmission of the disease.

"By and large TB is a disease of poverty."

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Gates gives $600m more to stop TB
27 Jan 06 |  Business

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