Experts warn of 10 million TB deaths in next five years

Ten million people will die of tuberculosis in the next five years if global funding to fight the disease is not increased, the Stop TB Partnership warned Wednesday.

The Partnership, a coalition of governments, non-profits, companies and international organisations, said 47 billion dollars (34 billion euros) are needed to save five million lives between now and 2015, including two million women and children.

"We need a plan to stop these completely unnecessary deaths," said Rifat Atun, chair of the Partnership's coordinating board, at the launch of the coalition's 2011-2015 "Global Plan to Stop TB".

"If we are able to carry out this plan, we will treat 32 million people and save five million lives," Atun said.

Each year, nine million people contract TB, which hits hardest in the developing world. Most cases occur in Asia (55 percent) and Africa (30 percent), with India and China alone accounting for 35 percent of all cases, the Partnership said.

Close to two million people die of the contagious lung infection each year - most from treatable cases, it said.

"Tuberculosis is an ancient disease. It should have been eliminated by today," said Mario Raviglione, director of the World Health Organisation's Stop TB department.

"The pandemic is slowly declining, but far too slowly."

The Partnership called for renewed efforts to help the most vulnerable patients - the more than one million HIV positive people who contract TB each year and the 400,000 to 500,000 people who develop multi-drug resistant TB.

Half a million HIV positive people die from TB each year, a quarter of all AIDS deaths, said Paul de Lay, deputy executive director of UNAids.

"There is a terrible link between HIV and TB," he said.

The coalition said 10 billion dollars are needed to fund research to develop a vaccine, new medications and faster and more effective testing. It said its goal by 2015 is to have three new drug regimens and four vaccines in Phase III clinical trials, the final step before drugs go to market.

It said funding to fight the disease has lagged in the past five years, adding that it needs to make up a funding shortfall of nine billion dollars from the last five-year cycle amid limited private-sector interest in the disease.

"Pharmaceutical companies don't invest enough in TB because it's not a profitable market," said Christian Lienhardt, senior research advisor for the Partnership.

"It's a poor people's disease, so TB medication will never be a blockbuster."

The Partnership said affected countries would not be able to fully fund the fight against TB, and called on international donors in high-income countries to kick in 2.8 billion dollars a year over the next five years to make up the funding gap.

Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection that spreads by air. An infected person can spread the disease to about 15 other people per year.