BANGKOK: A global effort to develop new anti-tuberculosis drugs by the year 2010, with an initial budget of $150 million, was launched at an international conference on health research held in Bangkok.
The global alliance for TB drug development was officially launched by World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Gro Brundtland on Tuesday, as part of an international movement to direct health research towards combatting diseases commonly associated with the poor, such as TB.
"One third of the world's population is currently infected with TB," said Brundtland. "Eight million people develop active tuberculosis every year and the disease takes the lives of 5,000 people a day," he said.
The threat of TB has been on the rise in recent years in tandem with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"In Africa, HIV infects 40 per cent of the patients with TB, and it is TB that kills a third of the victims of AIDS," said the WHO chief.
The global alliance for TB drug development seeks to combine public and private sector efforts to develop new drugs to combat TB, with an estimated budget of $150 million over the next five years.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a grant of $25 million to the programme, and the Rockefeller Foundation is expected to commit another 15 million.
The programme was appropriately launched at the International Conference on Health Research for Development being held in Bangkok till Friday.
The conference, which was opened on Tuesday morning by Brundtland, gathered some 800 government policy makers, researchers and health experts to discuss the importance of health research for developing countries.
It is the first such conference since 1990, when the Karolinska Nobel Conference in Stockholm launched the global debate about how to provide more equitable access to the fruits of health research, which have traditionally been aimed at the needs of the more affluent, developed countries.
The conference will also address the sensitive issue of trying to persuade multinational pharmaceutical companies, such as the leading manufacturers of anti-HIV/AIDS drugs, to offer their products at more affordable prices to developing countries, where the vast majority of HIV/AIDS victims live and die.
"Companies invested in HIV because they had a big market at home," said Adetokunbo Lucas, Nigerian head of the global forum for health research.
e added that a public-private alliance for finding a new anti-TB drug was necessary "because TB is a disease in a part of the world where the market forces have failed. Where market forces fail, you must invent an alternative way."