A century ago, consumption, or tuberculosis as it is now known, was commonplace. It is less prevalent today, but, alarmingly, it is again on the rise in the UK. In countries where retroviral drugs are not widely available, it's the most frequent cause of death in people with HIV. To make matters worse, new strains of tuberculosis are proving resistant to the antibiotics usually used to treat it.
Although this is a serious problem, grant funding is patchy. In practice, tuberculosis is as much a social as a medical issue, in the same way as HIV. There is money available specifically to combat HIV, but not for tuberculosis.
"Most funders are interested in what difference you can make to someone's life, not in a particular condition," says Melanie Matthews, development director of TB Alert, the only UK-based charity dedicated to tuberculosis. "Our overseas work is usually eligible for general development funding, not just health funding."
For TB Alert, work in the UK blurs the social and medical distinction. "We're not curing anyone directly: we're providing support and a helpline," Matthews points out. The organisation also makes some grants of its own to people with tuberculosis. At a maximum of £500, the grants are relatively small, but they can, for example, make a crucial difference to organisations that need to fund key workers who accompany clients to hospital appointments over the period it takes to treat the disease effectively.
However, there is some funding dedicated specifically to the disease. The most high-profile example comes from the Gates Foundation, which committed £143m last September. The Canada-based fund Fidelis is another global player. In the UK, a couple of small funders concentrate on tuberculosis, such as the Catriona Hargreaves Charitable Trust.
The British Lung Foundation has its own tuberculosis funding stream, but it is exclusively for medical research in the UK.
"The fund is standing at about £500,000, and this year grants are being offered to use that funding with the aim of spending it all," says Ian Jarrold, research manager at the BLF. "We're looking to fund really big studies to make an impact in the area."