Greater Focus on TB Screening Can Save Young Lives

A young girl waits for TB treatment at a clinic in Somalia.
A young girl waits for TB treatment at a clinic in Somalia.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
01 October 2013

 

The lives of 74,000 children might be saved each year if specialized attention is focused on the youngest sufferers of tuberculosis (TB). A coalition of U.S. and international groups put forth a plan to do so October 1, calling it the first to specifically target TB in children under 15.

“Any child who dies from TB is one child too many,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the Global Tuberculosis Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO). “TB is preventable and treatable, and this road map focuses on immediate actions governments and partners can take to stop children dying.”

The coalition of health agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has figured out why children are dying needlessly. They are too seldom screened when their vulnerability to TB exposure is high. Their TB symptoms are mistaken for other common childhood diseases. If they are properly diagnosed and receive treatment, research is lacking about the best dosage and duration of TB medications for children.

The Roadmap for Childhood Tuberculosis: Towards Zero Deaths points a way to overcoming these difficulties.

“By scaling up existing tools and investing in improved approaches for the future, we can turn the tide on this hidden epidemic,” said Dr. Tom Kenyon, of CDC’s Center for Global Health. “But we must put these tools in the hands of front-line health care workers and use every opportunity to identify children at risk for TB.”

The road map emphasizes the need to raise awareness and skills among front-line community health workers about TB risks and dangers in children. Research shows that children are not frequently screened for the disease, even when they live with an infected adult or in a high-risk community.

The needs of children and adolescents must be included at all levels of the health care system, the findings recommend, including scientific research, health policy planning and clinical practice.

This new push to address TB in children comes in the tailwind of A Promise Renewed, a campaign begun in 2012. With commitments from 175 nations, this campaign has cast a new light on the need to combat preventable diseases in young children and improve their chances of survival into adolescence and adulthood.

Like so many issues in global health, poverty is a key reason many children receive poor medical treatment. “Most of these children live in the poorest, most vulnerable households,” said Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF’s director of programs. “It is wrong that any children should die for want of a simple, affordable cure, especially where there are community-based options to deliver lifesaving interventions.”

Integration of TB screening, diagnosis and treatment into community maternal-child health care is one key step toward reducing child deaths, the coalition says. The international health groups are also hoping to put increased resources into enhanced efforts to target this disease. A WHO estimate finds that $120 million in additional funding will be necessary to properly address the needs of TB-infected children and those co-infected with HIV and TB.

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