NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 30, 2007

Western Europeans, unless they are old enough to remember the first half of the 20th century, tend to think of tuberculosis as a disease of the dim past.  In reality, a massive epidemic is raging right now in the eastern portion of the continent, says Marcos Espinal, executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.


  • In Eastern Europe each year, about 400,000 people become sick with TB and nearly 50,000 people die from the disease.
  • In nine European countries -- including Russia and several former Soviet republics -- case rates doubled between 1990 and 2005.
  • The problem is compounded by the steeply rising prevalence of HIV, especially in Russia and Ukraine, which makes people far more susceptible to developing active tuberculosis.

More disquieting, the region has the highest rates of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in the world, says Espinal:

  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that between 18 percent and 20 percent of known TB patients in the Baltic states have MDR-TB, which means the bacteria are resistant to the two most potent "first-line" TB drugs.
  • Of the 20 countries in the world with the highest rates of MDR-TB, 14 are in Europe, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
  • This is a result of poor TB-control practices and a high percentage of people dropping out of treatment.

In addition to the danger it poses to public health, TB is also an economic drain on Europe:

  • Tuberculosis generally strikes people between the ages of 15 and 54, their most economically productive years.
  • According to the European Lung Foundation, treating the disease costs some €2.1 billion ($2.8 billion) annually in the EU.
  • That figure does not include the substantial costs associated with lost work and premature deaths.

Source: Marcos Espinal, "TB Returns to Europe," Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2007.

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