WHO/Stop TB: Childhood tuberculosis neglected, despite available remedies

Childhood TB is a hidden epidemic

21 MARCH 2012 | GENEVA - Tuberculosis (TB) often goes undiagnosed in children from birth to 15 years old because they lack access to health services - or because the health workers who care for them are unprepared to recognize the signs and symptoms of TB in this age group. With better training and harmonization of the different programmes that provide health services for children, serious illness and death from TB could be prevented in thousands of children every year, WHO and Stop TB Partnership said today.

Childhood TB a hidden epidemic

“We have made progress on TB: death rates are down 40% overall compared to 1990 and millions of lives have been saved," said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department. "But unfortunately, to a large extent, children have been left behind, and childhood TB remains a hidden epidemic in most countries. It is time to act and address it everywhere". Most families who are vulnerable to TB live in poverty and know little about the disease and how to obtain care for it. All too often, when an adult is diagnosed with TB, no attempt is made to find out whether children in the household also have the disease. This is a crucial step, since most children catch TB from a parent or relative. Any child living with a TB patient and that has an unexplained fever and failure to thrive may have the disease and should be evaluated by a health worker for TB. Those who are not ill with TB should be protected against the disease through preventive therapy with the drug isoniazid. Those who are ill should receive treatment.

Low cost solutions to treat and cure

“Two hundred children die from TB every day. Yet it costs less than 3 cents a day to provide therapy that will prevent children from becoming ill with TB and 50 cents a day to provide treatment that will cure the disease,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. “But before we can give prevention or treatment we have to find the children at risk of TB, and this will only happen if governments, civil society and the private sector work together. From now on let us agree: It is unconscionable to let a single child die of TB.”

Share