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Mandela Urges Action on TB, HIV - 2004-07-15

Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela says the world can not win the fight against AIDS unless it also fights tuberculosis. The former president of South Africa is attending the 15th International AIDS Conference.

Nelson Mandela said Thursday that tuberculosis is an ignored disease that is getting worse because of the AIDS pandemic. More than two million people die of tuberculosis, or TB, each year, and AIDS is driving those numbers higher. Mr. Mandela said the death toll is unnecessary.

"We have known how to cure TB for more than 50 years," he said. "What we have lacked is the will and the resources to quickly diagnose people with TB and get them the treatment they need."

The former South African president spoke at the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok. TB is the number one killer of people with AIDS.

Mr. Mandela shared the stage with HIV and TB survivor Winston Zulu. TB carries a strong stigma, and he applauded Mr. Zulu's willingness to speak out. "There have been so few TB survivors who have stepped forward to share their story," said Mr. Mandela. "We need more advocates like Winston to tell the world about TB."

Mr. Mandela also shared his story. He contracted tuberculosis in 1988 while in prison under South Africa's apartheid regime. He said his friends in prison objected when he told them he had TB. But he was treated and cured.

Mr. Mandela compared his experience with TB with his diagnosis of prostate cancer three years ago. "In both cases I spoke about it openly because I knew that once people were aware of the facts they would support me," he said. "The press admired me for declaring my status. And I'm convinced that the support of my family, friends and the public in general contributed to my healing process."

TB usually is curable, but treatment takes months and requires strict adherence to a complicated drug regimen. No new medications have been developed in 40 years, largely because of a lack of funding. New initiatives are under way to increase research into new medications and tests.