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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Tuberculosis Crisis Needs West's Focus




These days, Russia and her friends are obsessed with the $4.8 billion question - whether the IMF will send that much money so Russia can pay back the IMF.


But instead we should be focusing on the $120 million question - which is the amount needed to eradicate a dangerous strain of tuberculosis incubating in Russia's prisons.


One could argue over whether the International Monetary Fund should entrust the Russian government with another few billion dollars. But regardless of whether the IMF should, it's all but a foregone conclusion that they will. The IMF cannot afford a Russian default: It would not only be a huge embarrassment, but also a dangerous precedent for those other countries unhappy about what they owe the IMF.


No country has ever defaulted on the IMF before - although some have gone through the same dance as Russia has, amid the same weeks and months of artificial drama, before finally getting new loans to pay off the old.


In short, it is hard for the average person to see any benefit in the outcome of these latest IMF-Russia negotiations.


But the hunt for cash to fight multi-drug resistant TB, which is at epidemic levels in Russia's prisons, is an entirely different matter. For one-fortieth of what Russia is asking of the IMF, this MDR TB could be all but eradicated. That's the sort of concrete result the IMF could only envy.


This $120 million is being sought by the chief of Russia's prisons. No one really trusts the Russian government so, instead, the West could send money on the condition that it be routed through and managed by non-governmental organizations with good track records, such as M?decins sans Fronti?res or the Public Health Research Institute.


The money would buy more than just relief from TB for 110,000 prisoners infected with it, of which about a third have the nastier MDR TB: It would buy national security for the West.


Every year about 10,000 MDR TB-infected people are released from Russia's prisons. Unless it is checked now, MDR TB - a super-resistant strain bred when patients are given weak or erratic doses of antibiotics - will eventually hit Europe.


So unlike the messy questions and murky goals of IMF lending, the $120 million question is something of a no-brainer: The West should send the money. The results will be significant and concrete. And the alternative - cleaning up a full-blown epidemic on two or more continents in a few years' time - will be thousands of times more expensive.