USAID Steps Up Battle on Deadly Bugs

ATLANTA--The global fight against tuberculosis and other infectious diseases got a shot in the arm yesterday. At the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases here, the U.S. State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new $50 million initiative focused on helping developing countries combat new and re-emerging diseases. The funds have been approved by Congress for fiscal year 1998, with a commitment to provide an equal or greater amount each year for 5 years.

"Bioterrorism is much in the news these days," says Nils Daulaire, USAID's senior health adviser. "But [worldwide] 17 million people die each year of infectious diseases in an invisible biological war." USAID is a veteran in this conflict, spending 4% of its $7.3 billion annual budget on infectious diseases, including $150 million on childhood ailments and $121 million on HIV and AIDS.

The new funds will be focused on four areas: drug-resistant microbes, tuberculosis, malaria, and improved surveillance and response against all infectious diseases. USAID hopes to boost local health infrastructures in developing countries--especially "strengthening laboratory capability," says Joy Riggs-Perla, director of the office of health and nutrition in USAID's Washington bureau. Some of the funds will support research into disease diagnosis and control, although the agency has yet to work out how these research projects will be administered.

Experts at the meeting generally praised the initiative, saying that additional resources in the fight against infectious diseases are always welcome. On the other hand, others were disappointed by the amount. "It's just a drop in the ocean," said one public health expert who asked not to be identified.