Did you know that although AIDS and TB kill about the same number of people, AIDS research gets roughly 20 times the money given for TB research? I didn’t either, until I went to a meeting last week organized by MSF (Doctors without Borders). The theme of the meeting was the urgent need to get some more money—a common cry in science, but in this case, fully warranted.
The numbers are shocking:TB gets about $120 million, less money than even anthrax and smallpox. Of that, only about $20 million goes to clinical trials. That’s maybe enough for one large trial, but that’s it. Scientists are meanwhile desperate to test combinations of drugs we already have, but just don’t have the money.
Who should pay? Europe, which has a rising problem with drug-resistant TB, sets aside a pittance. At the moment, most of the cases are in poor eastern European countries, but If their richer Western neighbors don’t take this seriously, they’ll soon start to see outbreaks of drug-resistant TB.
Despite the bleak numbers, though, I was really inspired by the meeting. TB researchers, maybe because they’re so used to adversity, are an energetic bunch. Unlike in many other scientific fields, most TB researchers get out into the field and see the need for their work first hand. To them, whether to continue doing this important work and push for more money is not really a question.