Shot in the arm. European Union may boost funding for drugs and vaccines to fight three major diseases.

Big Bucks for Big Diseases

The European Commission (EC) is gearing up to spend as much as $1 billion a year on three diseases closely linked to poverty. The windfall, to help countries suffering from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, represents Europe's share of the commitment to combat the diseases made by the G8 group of industrialized countries at its summit in Okinawa, Japan, last July. Japan is also working on its post-Okinawa aid plan, said to amount to $3 billion over the next 5 years. The United States is unlikely to spell out its commitment until after the November elections, officials say.

A high-level roundtable this week in Brussels is expected to discuss how best to spend the additional aid. Meeting participants will include EC president Romano Prodi, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the health ministers of potential recipient nations such as South Africa and Brazil.

But no spending decisions are likely before December, says Lieve Fransen, an EC health policy analyst who is coordinating the roundtable. "The EC clearly recognizes that we have to do more, and do it better and faster," she says.