World health authorities have warned the pitched battle they are waging against the growing spread of tuberculosis requires a 44-billion-dollar investment in the coming years.
Some 1,300 officials from governments, health organizations and NGOs held a three-day meeting of the Stop TB Partnership here, and called for added resources to fight the illness which kills 5,000 people daily around the world.
Just in the 22 hardest hit countries alone "44 billion dollars are needed from now until 2015 to reach targets set by the World Health Organization (WHO)," the meeting said in a final declaration Wednesday.
And it urged governments not to stop the funding because of the economic crisis.
Tuberculosis (TB) is an often fatal infectious disease caused by mycobacteria which are spread through the air, when sufferers cough, sneeze, or spit.
And it disproportionately strikes poorer countries and people as it is more easily spread in crowded conditions. And while some developed countries thought it was a thing of the past it still strikes poorer corners in many of them.
The WHO warned on World Tuberculosis day on Tuesday that progress in tackling the disease was far too slow, as it doubled its estimate of the numbers of HIV/AIDS patients affected.
Some 9.27 million people contracted TB in 2007, an increase of about 30,000 over the previous year mainly in line with population growth, according to the WHO's annual report on tuberculosis control.
They included some 1.4 million people with HIV/AIDS, compared to an estimated 600,000 in 2006 reported last year.
Health ministers from the worst affected countries said in a statement here they "are convinced that health is fundamental to social and economic development.
"Even in this time of global financial crisis, we call for sustained commitment to protect investments in public health, and in particular, the diseases of poverty," the statement said.
An additional two billion dollars is needed for research, authorities here stressed.
The public and private Stop Tuberculosis Partnership plans to pour 56 billion dollars between 2006-2015 into TB research including on vaccine and prevention and control campaigns, hoping to save some 14 million lives.
"Investments in HIV, TB and malaria are delivering results but major challenges remain," the health ministers added.
"Our health systems need to be strengthened in order to sustain the gains made against tuberculosis and address emerging threats such as multi-drug-resistant TB and the increasingly heavy burden of the TB-HIV co-epidemic."
Among the communities disproportionately struck by TB are indigenous people, from the Inuit in Canada to the Aymara in Bolivia's highlands, authorities also said, hoping to highlight their plight.
"There are about 370 million indigenous people in more than 70 countries worldwide who have been left out of TB-fighting programs," said Canada's Wilton Littlechild, a Cree who is a UN expert.
The WHO is also holding a meeting of the 27 countries that account for 85 percent of multidrug resistant cases of tuberculosis -- including India, China, Russia, South Africa and Bangladesh - in Beijing on April 1.