misha friedman – tuberculosis in the former soviet union

Tuberculosis In The Former Soviet Union

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Tuberculosis is still a very deadly disease – especially in the former Soviet Union.

The number of patients with very difficult to treat forms of tuberculosis is growing steadily in that part of the world. Officials from health organizations say it is an epidemic and it is not slowing down. More and more patients are found to have the non-treatable form of tuberculosis – XDR (extensively drug-resistant).

Though Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia are very different, they have one thing in common – people are not treated properly, and people are not aware that tuberculosis does not have to be so deadly, if only more time would be spent on educating the population, thus preventing the disease from spreading. Instead, those who become sick also become stigmatized, relatives turn away, neighbors stop speaking to them. They spend months in prison-like clinics, where equipment is outdated and medical and nursing staff are just as poor as their patients. Many leave without finishing their treatment and many come back again and again.

In that part of the world, unemployment levels are high, most young people are left jobless and spend their time taking drugs, using the same needles and having unprotected sex. Many end up HIV positive. But they do not die from developing AIDS, they die much quicker – from tuberculosis. Most of them do not even know they are sick, till it is too late.

I have been working on this story since 2008. It first started as an assignment from Doctors Without Borders in Chechnya, and quickly grew into a much larger project, involving several countries, dozens of hospitals and clinics, and hundreds of doctors and patients. I have seen very little change in the past few years, but I hope that now, when my project is complete, any attention it receives will bring some change at least to the people involved.



Misha Friedman is a documentary photographer who has worked for various NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières, documenting the humanitarian crisis in Northern Uganda, urban violence in Nigeria, Kala Azar in India, and civil war in Darfur.

Recent projects deal with the tuberculosis epidemic in the former Soviet Union, and corruption in Russia.


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Misha Friedman