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Gates Triples Funding To End TB

Bill Gates pledged Friday to triple his foundation's funding for eradicating tuberculosis to a total of $900 million by 2015, and health experts at the World Economic Forum urged renewed caution against the spread of bird flu.

The funding is part of a larger campaign against TB, which killed 1.6 million people worldwide last year. Gates, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and British treasury chief Gordon Brown called for help to prevent 14 million tuberculosis deaths over the next decade.

"This is a very tough disease," said Gates, the Microsoft Corp. chairman and co-founder. "It is going to take all of us, private sector, the pharmaceutical companies, philanthropy and governments in countries that have the disease, to participate as well."

The Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis was formed by the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership, a group of 400 organizations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation now gives $300 million to help fight the disease, and Gates said the amount would reach $900 million by 2015.

Britain said it would commit $74 million to fight tuberculosis in India.

"If 2005 was the year of commitments, 2006 must be the year of delivery," Brown said. "That's why, when the G8 finance ministers meet in Moscow in only a few days time, I will put on the agenda how we can meet the commitments to fund this specific plan."

Brown also said he would propose to the G8 ministers expanding a debt relief agreement made last year to some of the world's poorest nations.

Also Friday, the U.N. bird flu chief cautioned against thinking the disease was losing its edge because the mortality rate in Turkey is lower than in Asia.

"We must still maintain utmost vigilance for and preparations for the next human influenza pandemic," David Nabarro told reporters.

He said the deadliness of the bird flu virus in humans is not an indicator of whether the risk of a human pandemic is going up or going down.

"It is simply telling us that the virus may be changing in the way in which it interacts with humans when it jumps into them from the birds, but it is not telling us that the risk of a mutation that causes the pandemic is increasing or decreasing," he said.

Experts fear a mutation of the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia since late 2003 and killed at least 82 people worldwide, could spark a pandemic killing millions of people.

On tuberculosis, Obasanjo said the disease should be a priority for African leaders. Nigeria will host a meeting of African heads of state in May, and Obasanjo said he would make the issue a priority for them and the African Union.

"The Global Plan is fundamental for Africa, where tuberculosis was declared an emergency by 46 countries in 2005," he said. "We hope the African Union will endorse this plan and call upon African governments to commit their share of the resources needed to implement it."

Gates said the increase in funding was to help develop new drugs and effective regimens to treat the disease.

"This plan makes a compelling case for greater investment in tuberculosis," he said. "We're willing to triple our funding for tuberculosis, and we urge others to do the same.

"If we have the chance to save 14 million lives, and a clear plan to make it happen, we have an obligation to act."