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Gates committed to TB for life’
A gift of $10 million recently awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the World Health Organization (WHO) should have a big impact on research aimed at finding better diagnostic TB tests for low-income settings, says a TB expert in the United States.
"WHO can do studies [in developing countries] for a lot less money than we can do here, so $10 million is a lot for them," says Rick O’Brien, MD, chief of the research and evaluation branch of the Division of TB Elimination at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Better TB diagnostics are badly needed in developing countries, O’Brien notes. "In most settings in poor countries, if diagnosis is done properly, it consists of smear microscopy," he says. Cultures and rapid testing for resistance are generally unavailable in such settings. But simple smear microscopy has its drawbacks, O’Brien adds. "For one thing, it’s not particularly sensitive. You miss the smear-negative cases. It also requires a lot of attention and good laboratory technique."
TB researchers at WHO’s Tropical Disease Unit have already begun assembling a specimen bank, consisting of samples of urine, blood, and sputa taken from TB patients and from others without TB. The specimens are intended for use by companies seeking to test new diagnostics.
Gates gave $1.44 billion last year in 60 separate grants to projects aimed at improving global public health — an amount that equals more than a fourth of the $5 billion spent worldwide annually. That’s just half of the $10 billion the world’s nations ought to be spending to fight TB, says David Nabarro, executive director of WHO.
"The world hasn’t been allocating its resources properly at all in global health," Gates told the Boston Globe recently, adding that he will continue to give a billion dollars a year to global health throughout his lifetime. "I’m sure that for my lifetime, even beyond, that world health is going to be our priority," he said.