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The Return of a Forgotten Killer

In the last two centuries, tuberculosis has claimed more lives than any other disease: an unprecedented and unsurpassed death toll of one billion. And, despite a compelling economic and moral case for investing more in controlling the disease, it has quietly resumed its position as the world’s leading infectious killer.

PRAGUE – Once, tuberculosis was one of the world’s greatest preoccupations. Consumption, as it was known, killed indiscriminately, claiming luminaries like Franz Kafka, John Keats, and US President James Monroe. In the last two centuries, TB has claimed more lives than any other disease: an unprecedented and unsurpassed death toll of one billion.

Thanks to the advent of a vaccine and cheap drugs, TB kills very few people in the developed world nowadays. So it has quickly been forgotten in rich countries – thought of as a relic from the Victorian era.

TB not only gets scant attention, but also a fraction of health funding. Around 3.4% of total development assistance for health is devoted to TB, compared to 27.7% for maternal and child health and 29.7% for HIV in 2015.

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