More than 36 million patients have been successfully treated via the World Health Organization's strategy for tuberculosis (TB) control since 1995. Despite predictions of a decline in global incidence, the number of new cases continues to grow, approaching 10 million in 2010. Here we review the changing relationship between the causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and its human host and examine a range of factors that could explain the persistence of TB. Although there are ways to reduce susceptibility to infection and disease, and a high-efficacy vaccine would boost TB prevention, early diagnosis and drug treatment to interrupt transmission remain the top priorities for control. Whatever the technology used, success depends critically on the social, institutional, and epidemiological context in which it is applied.