The international community is spending less than half of the money called for by a global plan to stop tuberculosis, according to a report released in Cape Town on Wednesday.
"New diagnostics, drugs and vaccines are urgently needed to fight TB, but the world is turning a deaf ear," said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Treatment Action Group.
According to TAG, the 2006 Global Plan to Stop TB, adopted at last year's World Economic Forum, called for 900 million US dollars a year to be invested in TB research and development.
However worldwide donors - including governments, philanthropic organisations and the private sector - spent only 424 million dollars in 2006.
Funding going down
Public sector funding in fact declined from the previous year, including an 8 million dollar drop by the US National Institutes of Health, the world's largest health research investor.
The global plan, adopted at last year's World Economic Forum, envisaged that by 2015 the spread of TB would be reversed, everyone would have access to quality TB diagnosis and treatment, and that in the process some 14 million lives would have been saved.
It also foresaw the first new TB drug in 40 years by 2010 and a new vaccine by 2015.
This was all premised on full funding of the plan.
However total global research spending increased by just 31 million dollar last year, only five percent over the 2005 level of 393 million dollar, according to TAG.
Much of this increase came from philanthropies, mainly the Gates Foundation.
9 mil new infections per year
Health experts say there are nine million new TB infections annually in the world, and that two million people - most of them in poor countries - die from the disease every year.
Half of all people with HIV have the disease, which is fatal to them if untreated.
"Here in South Africa TB is raging out of control," Harrington said.
We are not winning the battle
"We are not winning the battle against TB because of HIV."
Dr Karin Weyer, TB research director at the SA Medical research Council, said multi- and extreme-drug-resistant strains of TB had "amplified" the lack of investment in TB research.
This meant doctors were still using diagnostic tools that were a century old, and drugs and a vaccine more than 50 years old.
Less than five percent of existing multi-drug-resistant cases were being diagnosed, and where they were being treated, the treatment was hampered by a shortage of drugs.
She called on well-resourced countries to make a serious investment in research.
The Treatment Action Group is an international Aids research and policy "think tank" fighting for better treatment, a vaccine, and a cure, for Aids. – (Sapa)