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Children and TB – new report shows hidden epidemic

Wednesday, 2 October, 2013

The first ever roadmap for ending tuberculosis (TB) among children was launched yesterday in Washington by a coalition of leading TB organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, and the Stop TB Partnership. The Roadmap for Childhood TB: Towards Zero Deaths contains ten key ‘actions’ that are needed in order to avert thousands of TB-related deaths in children, including children living with HIV. These include addressing research and funding gaps, mainstreaming TB services and targeting diagnostic and prevention interventions.

The report aims to raise awareness of the hidden epidemic of children and TB - “any child who dies from TB is one child too many”, said Dr Mario Raviglione of WHO. Despite TB being entirely preventable and treatable, 74,000 children die annually from TB, and 500,000 children are newly diagnosed each year. In fact, the burden of TB deaths can be considered even greater, because these deaths do not include children who were living with HIV. TB and HIV epidemics are closely linked - as TB is the leading cause of death for people living with HIV.

The report estimates that $120 million is needed each year in order to reach the goal of zero TB-related deaths in children. Particularly, $40 million of this is earmarked specifically for antiretroviral treatment for children co-infected with TB and HIV. In addition, funding is needed to research paediatric drugs, and drug formulations to meet the complex needs of children with TB - as current drugs can be toxic. For children co-infected with HIV and TB, treatment options become even more complex, as there are less options available to them.   

The report also calls for TB prevention, care and support to be brought ‘into the mainstream’, by integrating standalone TB services into existing community-based child and maternal healthcare programmes. In so doing, the scale and reach of TB programmes will be greater, and more children can be reached. This will also allow for targeting of at-risk children with prevention and treatment services.