Well, sort of. For the past few days, I’ve been in rainy Vancouver, where TB researchers from all over the world have gathered for a Keystone meeting on the topic. As we reported in our free TB special this month, TB kills 4,400 people every day and together with HIV, is creating a serious crisis in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.
Not that you would know it from the WHO’s press release on the occasion of World TB Day (today, although the release came out Thursday). The WHO takes a self-congratulatory tone, announcing that TB has leveled off for the first time since 1993. It’s not until the third para that you find out in actual numbers, TB continued to rise in 2005, just more slowly than it had in 2004. That’s worth trumpeting?
TB scientists complain that one of their biggest obstacles is the abysmal funding, about a tenth of the money available for research on HIV/AIDS. It seems to me that the WHO’s positive spin is going to make donors even less likely to chip in. I don’t doubt that the situation could be worse, but when a disease kills nearly 2 million people a year, that’s no time for pats on the back.
A few scientists at the meeting have said that they find the WHO’s stance unhelpful and demoralizing. Fortunately, it dosn’t seem to be affecting their research too much. This is my first TB keystone meeting, but people here have been marveling at how well attended it is this year.
Even better, many of the attendees are young grad students and postdocs. After decades of no drugs, no vaccines and absolutely no money, TB is making a comeback. You could almost say that attention from celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Bono has made TB sort of… sexy.
As offensive as that might sound, anything that brings this horrible killer more attention is all right with me. I’m heading back now to hear more about clinical trials for new TB vaccines, the first good candidates to be tested in almost a 100 years.