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The Neglected Solution to the TB Crisis

Though TB can strike anyone, it disproportionately afflicts marginalized and vulnerable populations in places like refugee camps, slums, and prisons. That fact goes a long way toward explaining why 10.4 million people contracted the disease in 2016.

BOSTON/GENEVA – In an age of rapid technological innovation, it is shameful that almost two million people will die from tuberculosis this year because they are too poor to afford treatment. Indeed, the reason why TB continues to take lives is simple: indifference.

This indifference stems from the deadly delusion that TB is a disease of the past – a delusion that has persisted, even as 10.4 million people contracted TB in 2016. TB patients are generally powerless to demand the world’s attention. Though the disease can strike anyone, it disproportionately afflicts marginalized and vulnerable populations in places like refugee camps, slums, and prisons.

Another delusion is that we have ample treatments to fight TB, even as it continues to mutate. But multidrug-resistant TB is a serious threat. It is sometimes called “Ebola with wings”: while the two pathogens have similar death rates, MDR-TB is airborne and spreads more easily. The current treatment for MDR-TB includes a regimen of toxic drugs – some requiring painful, daily injections – that can last for up to two years.

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