The discovery of the tuberculosis bacterium by Robert Koch in 1882 was one of the highlights in the history of medical research. It pointed the way to overcome one of the most devastating epidemics: tuberculosis. In 1907, the ”Robert Koch Foundation to Combat Tuberculosis” was founded. A successful appeal for donations laid a secure material foundation. The first activities were recognised all over the world.
Andrew Carnegie alone donated 500,000 gold marks. The first recipient of a grant was the man whose name the foundation bears: Robert Koch. In 1909 he was paid 20,000 marks from the funds of the foundation for his tuberculosis research: this was the first interest on the capital held by the foundation.
”The conviction has already spread amongst the people that tuberculosis is an avoidable illness, and people have learned to avoid infection better than they did earlier. Since this insight has awoken in the people, the tuberculosis mortality rate has greatly declined in all civilised countries, and there are increasing indications that the illness will be completely overcome. Now is the right time to engage in this battle across the board.”
Robert Koch in his speech of thanks to the sponsor Carnegie, held on 12 April 1908 in New York
90 years later, these words of Robert Koch have a new relevance. The advance of previously unknown pathogens has made tuberculosis a threat again. We urgently need new approaches in research and a new determination to combat tuberculosis on a broad front.