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Cough Up for TB! The Underfunding of Research for Tuberculosis and Other Neglected Diseases by the Italian Government

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Photograph by Brendan Bannon

In recent months, the public opinion and the media all over the world have highlighted what is being defi ned as a new health emergency.  It is the H1N1 form of infl uenza that, according to the World Health Organisation’s data, has infected over 30,000 people in 74 countries, for a total of 145 certain deaths; the WHO, again, has warned of the risk of a world-wide pandemic.

But alongside a problem like this, widely discussed and in relation to which governments all over the world are taking action, there are dozens of fatal and silent diseases. Silent because they don’t make the news, there is nothing new about them. Silent because the public opinion doesn’t know about them and because, all too often, politics keeps them out of its radius of action.

Médecins sans Frontières’s report on Tuberculosis gives voice to one of these situations. Every year TB causes 1,7 million deaths in the world and about 9 million new infections. Far from being defeated, therefore, TB is still a widespread and dangerous disease. What is the task of politics and what role can Italy have in the fight against such a persistent disease?

Clearly, as stressed in the report, a first step would be to bring its contributions towards research and development of new drugs in line with European and world standards.

Tackling these ills at their roots, however, means not only fighting specific diseases but also, and above all, eliminating the economic and social conditions that provide a fertile terrain in which they can spread. Defeating forgotten diseases such as TB therefore means working actively in order to improve the living, hygienic, sanitary and nutritional conditions in countries with a high rate of contagion.  It is also necessary to start to recognise the innovative steps made by the International community over the last ten years in building new tools such as, first and foremost, the Global Fund for fighting pandemics. But politics can and must also move on other levels, from international organisations to the programmes funded by the European Union up to support, not only of an economic nature, for all those players, starting from Non-Government Organisations, that work in the field, in close contact with the population and with local organisations.

In a few weeks time a G8 summit will be held in Italy.  It is on that occasion that our country can renew its commitment and demand the attention of the great nations of the earth so that certain tragedies stop being “silent”, attract the attention of all and sundry and inspire everyone to take responsibility.  Naturally the condition for this to be a legitimate ambition is that, unlike today, once a commitment has been entered into it should be fulfi lled and once one’s word has been given it should be kept.  It should not happen, a sit does nowadays, that resources intended for the development of the poorest countries, in particular of Sub-Saharan Africa, decrease instead of increasing.

Cough Up for TB! The Underfunding of Research for Tuberculosis and Other Neglected Diseases by the Italian Government