In the six days that an international conference on lung health was held in Cape Town, 27 000 people died of tuberculosis - almost all of them in the developing world.
And because TB is mainly a disease of the poor, it has not been given proper attention, said Nils Billo, executive director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, said yesterday.
Speaking at the end of the 38th Union World Conference on Lung Health, Billo said it was a scandal that there had not been more support in the past to find new and better drugs and diagnostics.
"We had medication for Aids in six years. It's a scandal," said Billo.
No new drug has been developed for TB for over 40 years with two drugs showing promise, but expectations are that this will only be available by 2011.
Moxifloxacin has entered Phase 3 trials, but only due to massive investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gates is also driving the search for new diagnostics and a vaccine.
Held for the first time in Africa, the conference attracted 3 000 delegates from 120 countries.
Delegates have seen a renewed push to find better solutions to confront the TB epidemic, but it is mainly due to its link to the HIV epidemic.
TB is the number one killer of people living with HIV, despite the fact that TB is curable.
Poor TB control programmes in many countries, including South Africa, have neglected basic preventative measures such as infection control in clinics and hospitals and making sure that people are cured of TB first time around.
At present 96% of TB cases are treatable and curable by current methods.
Globally, 4% of TB cases are multi-drug resistant (MDR), although there are hotspots where it was much higher.
Experts agreed that the best way to control MDR TB was to cure TB and that the high number of MDR cases was a reflection of a failing TB control programme.
Current thinking is that most MDR TB patients can be treated in their communities if infection control measures are coupled with educationand support from health institutions and community health workers.
But Health Director-General Thami Mseleku was adamant that MDR TB patients needed to be treated in TB hospitals for six months. He said that more beds would be made available. KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape are struggling to cope with the rising number of MDR TB patients, with many on waiting lists for beds.
Others are not prepared to be separated from their families for six months and remain undiagnosed in the community.
Billo urged governments to implement good infection control methods and a basic TB control program at community level. He revealed that 4 million children died each year from pneumonia that can be treated with antibiotics.