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Spurred on by the reversal or slowing of the decline in tuberculosis incidence in many countries, the threat of the emergence of multidrug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and possibly by the success of international AIDS surveillance, European collaborators have completed a pilot study (reported in this issue) of the feasibility of standardising tuberculosis surveillance. Although the case definitions used within countries differ, these differences are unlikely to account for the large variations in the incidence of tuberculosis between countries, ranging in 1995 from 3 per 100 000 in Malta to 102/100 000 in Romania. Equally large differences between countries were observed for the proportions of cases who had been born abroad. The establishment of surveillance for Europe as a whole is likely to strengthen national tuberculosis reporting systems and enable multidrug resistance and the relative effectiveness of control programmes to be monitored closely. When standardised case specific data are shared routinely more sophisticated analyses will be possible, which should enable prevention policies to be selected that will hasten the elimination of “the captain of all these men of death”.


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