Document Type


Publication Date





In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly convened the first-ever high-level meeting (HLM) on tuberculosis (TB). Since that time news on the world’s most lethal infectious disease is not good—the 2019 WHO TB report shows 1.2 million people died from TB, a number that has fallen just 11% since 2015, less than one-third of the way towards the End TB Strategy milestone of a 35% reduction (to about 850 million deaths) by 2020. The same number of people, 10.0 million, are estimated to have fallen ill with TB in 2018 as in 2017. The stubborn persistence of TB is attributable to glaring gaps in case detection and treatment. While case detection has increased in recent years, there is still a significant gap between the 7 million new cases reported and the 10 million incident cases estimated in the most recent WHO data—and treatment success continues to hover at only 85%.

There has long been a call for a shift toward a “human rights-based approach” in TB—building policies and programs explicitly on the norms and values set out in international human rights law, treating people with TB as rights holders in their interaction with the state and the health system, and working to overcome stigma and discrimination. Yet laws in high TB-burden countries (HBCs) have not been reformed to include basic rights protections. This helps explain the lack of progress, as individuals who fear discrimination and coercion may avoid diagnosis and treatment. Thus, TB stands in stark contrast to HIV/AIDS, for which the international community has moved far more decisively to recognize and protect key rights, even as more progress is needed. At the UN, heads of state committed to removing discriminatory laws and policies against people with TB, protecting and promoting their human rights and dignity, as a key part of a strategy to improve the TB response and end the epidemic. Here, we analyze key areas of law with particular importance for TB, focusing on five aspects of compulsory public health powers in law and on laws related to migration. We identify significant gaps between core human rights norms and existing legal environments.

Publication Citation

PLoS Medicine, 17(10), e1003324, October 23, 2020, at 1-9.