Plan to Slash TB Deaths in Half by 2015 Outlined

Britain, Nigeria, and U.S. computer industrialist Bill Gates have launched a $57 billion plan to cut tuberculosis deaths in half in 10 years, slashing the current rate of more than two million a year. They announced the program at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The plan to reduce tuberculosis rates was developed by the global Stop TB Partnership of 400 organizations and endorsed by British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Gates told a World Economic Forum news conference that he will support the program by tripling the money his philanthropic foundation gives to TB research from $300 million to $900 million. "This is a tough disease," he said. "There are challenges like the association with AIDS [and] the multidrug resistance, but I think this plan takes on those tough problems and can make a big difference."

The Stop TB Partnership's executive secretary, Marcos Espinal, says the $57 billion plan would be three times more than the consortium has already spent on TB control since 2000, when it was formed. He notes that in the first five years of the partnership, the number of patients taking TB medicines under direct supervision by health care workers doubled to more than four million a year in 192 countries, with a cure rate of 83 percent.

Espinal says the new plan, if fully implemented, would seek to treat 50 million TB patients by 2015 and cure 90 percent of them, saving 14 million lives. It would also accelerate research and development of the first new TB drugs in 40 years and the first new vaccines since the early 1900s.

"In achieving these objectives, we will meet the Millennium Development Goals of halting and reversing the TB epidemic by 2015," said Espinal. "We will also meet the impact targets set by the Stop TB Partnership of cutting TB prevalence and death in half relative to 1990 levels. With this plan, we will break the back of the global TB epidemic and create the conditons to eliminate tuberculosis as a public health problem by 2050."

Espinal says the global funding shortfall for the plan is $31 billion. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown says he will call on finance ministers from the other seven leading industrial nations to help make up much of this difference when they meet in two weeks in Russia.

"Every 15 seconds, someone dies of tuberculosis preventably," said Brown. "That's why when the G8 finance ministers meet in Moscow in only a few days time, I will put in the agenda how we can meet the commitments to fund this specific plan."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says he hopes the African Union will also endorse the plan and calls upon other African governments to commit their share of resources to it. "It is incumbent on us as African leaders to also play our own role, knowing fully well that this is a disease that affects our own people more than other people," he said.

The Nigerian leader thanked Bill Gates for his commitment of nearly $1 billion to the cause.