WHO calls drug-resistant TB a time bomb as the Gates Foundation and Chinese government announce a $33 million initiative to fight it

1 April 2009 - Beijing -- WHO Director-General Margaret Chan warned today that the global epidemic of drug-resistant TB is poised to spin out of control and urged countries to fight the growing threat.

"Call it what you may - a time-bomb or a powder keg," she said at the opening of a three-day ministerial meeting on drug-resistant TB in Beijing, which is being attended by ministers and senior officials from 27 countries worst-affected by drug-resistant TB. "Any way you look at it, this is a potentially explosive situation."

Countries attending the meeting are being urged to develop national plans to prevent and control the spread of drug-resistant TB. "At a time of economic downturn, the world simply cannot afford to let a threat of this magnitude, complexity and cost spiral out of control," Dr Chan said.

On the occasion of the meeting the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Chinese government announced a $33 million project for research on diagnostics and treatments for drug-resistant TB and improving surveillance. "Because of its skill, its scale, its TB burden, its love of innovation, and its political commitment to public health, China is a perfect laboratory for large-scale testing of new tools and delivery techniques to fight TB," Gates said. The project will initially cover 20 million people and then be expanded to 100 million people over five years.