By Lauran Neergaard
AP Medical Writer
Thursday, March 5, 1998; 6:30 p.m. EST

US to Help Nations Fight Diseases

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Seeking to stop the growing threat of infectious diseases before they enter the United States, the government is about to spend $50 million helping developing nations from El Salvador to India battle tuberculosis, malaria and drug-resistant bacteria.

The money will fund a range of programs from buying drug-treated bed nets in Africa that protect against malaria-spreading mosquitoes to teaching Latin American pharmacists to stop dispensing antibiotics willy-nilly.

The funds -- a surprise allocation from Congress late last fall -- also will help establish a world system to detect emerging infections and outbreaks earlier, so doctors can respond before too many people die.

If the strategy works, within 10 years it could cut by at least 10 percent the 17 million people who die annually of infectious diseases, Dr. Nils Daulaire of the U.S. Agency for International Development said Thursday.

The idea is not just to help poor countries, but to catch emerging infections sooner so they don't travel here and harm Americans.

"We for years have looked for nickels and dimes to be doing more" against infections, Daulaire said. "It's a very valuable down payment on both the health of people around the world and on the protection of Americans themselves."

AID will outline its spending plan Monday at a meeting of international infectious disease experts sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, whose scientists are called to diagnose and fight outbreaks worldwide, also is working with global anti-infection programs.

Daulaire said the plan wasn't yet final, but as of Thursday the agency had proposals to disburse the first $30 million:

--$8 million for antibiotic resistance, including work in India, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru. Plans are being discussed for additional programs in Bangladesh, Nepal and Africa.

Many pneumonia, meningitis and dysentery germs now resist standard antibiotics; malaria no longer responds to the inexpensive therapy -- chloroquine -- half the time in some African countries; and the TB that kills 3 million people a year is rapidly becoming resistant to many drugs.

Developing countries fuel the problem by selling antibiotics in corner stalls to patients who often never see a doctor and don't know they should take the pills until the disease is entirely gone. AID money will educate pharmacists, health workers and patients in an attempt to change that.

--$7 million to fight malaria, which kills 2 million a year, particularly among African children and in parts of the Amazon Basin where malaria is staging a resurgence.

Even regular bed nets cannot prevent mosquitos from spreading the disease every night, but an AID study found impregnating bed nets with pesticide could lower infection rates by 25 percent. The new money will buy treated nets and teach local health workers to recognize symptoms of malaria at its earliest stages, when it's most curable.

--$8 million for tuberculosis, including work in India, El Salvador and Honduras.

The money will help catch drug-resistant strains before they spread and establish programs in which health workers watch patients swallow their medicine every day to ensure they're treated properly.

--$8 million for world disease surveillance, training local health workers to report suspicious symptoms quickly to their capitals so world experts can stop such killers as the Ebola virus before an outbreak spreads.

Getting the $50 million from Congress last fall was a surprise for AID, a frequent target of politicians opposed to spending U.S. resources abroad and one that some critics even attempted to shut down.

The funds came after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., successfully argued that global infections threaten Americans' health, so the nation must fight back. He has pledged to help find continuing money for the foreign program next year as well.

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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