The overall tuberculosis situation in the world in 1990 and its recent trends are reviewed by an analysis of the case notifications to WHO and tuberculosis mortality reports. Estimates of the prevalence of tuberculosis infection and the incidence of tuberculosis disease and deaths predicted in 1990 were carried out with simple epidemiological models. Approximately one third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In the past decade, an average of 2.5 to 3.2 million cases were notified every year globally, the small decrease in notification rates in recent years being offset by population growth. In 1990, an estimated 8 million people developed tuberculosis worldwide and 2.6 to 2.9 million died. The majority of these cases and deaths occurred in Asia, with an increasing number among HIV-infected individuals, especially in Africa where an upward trend is clearly detectable. Data on tuberculosis cases notified by WHO Member States demonstrate the magnitude of the problem but must be interpreted with caution. Being less than the expected incidence, they reflect the inadequacies of tuberculosis control programmes. This review confirms the very high global magnitude of the tuberculosis problem and calls for an urgent revitalization of tuberculosis control programmes throughout the world.