Childhood tuberculosis neglected despite available remedies

Tuberculosis often goes undiagnosed in children from birth to 15 years old because they lack access to health services, or because health workers are unprepared to recognize the signs and symptoms in this age group, says WHO.

Tuberculosis 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 in this age group, says WHO.

According to a press statement released jointly by the World Health Organization and the Stop TB Partnership to mark this year’s World TB Day, serious illness and death from TB could be prevented in thousands of children every year with better training and harmonization of the different programs that provide health services for children.

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB department, says progress has been made on TB, with death rates down to 40% overall compared to 1990 and millions of lives saved.

“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.”

The statement says that 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.”

Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, says 200 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. 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.”

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