Leaders of several global agencies convened in Washington on Tuesday to address the worldwide problem of childhood tuberculosis (TB), which was recently named in a World Health Organization (WHO) report as a problem whose treatment is so urgent it “cannot be underestimated.”
WHO outlines in its report, titled “Roadmap for Childhood TB: Toward Zero Deaths,” that an estimated 74,000 adolescent deaths resulting from TB could be prevented each year if TB were fully eradicated, a prospect that the WHO asserts is entirely feasible if the proper mobilization efforts and resources reach the more high-risk areas around the world.
Stakeholders at the Washington meeting included WHO, UNICEF, the Stop TB Partnership, and a number of global TB agencies.
“Meeting the goal of zero TB deaths in children requires increased investment and leveraging of resources both globally and at the country level to ensure that the actions highlighted in the roadmap are undertaken,” WHO’s report states, noting that to do so would require upwards of $7.7 billion for adequate TB research across all age groups. At least $80 million per year is required to address childhood TB at all, the WHO estimates.
The roadmap for addressing childhood TB outlines 10 key actions to be taken at both the global and national levels:
1. Include the needs of children and adolescents in research, policy development and clinical practice.
2. Collect and report better data, including on preventive measures.
3. Develop training and reference materials on childhood TB for health care workers.
4. Foster local expertise and leadership among child health workers at all levels of the health care system.
5. Do not miss critical opportunities for intervention (e.g. use strategies such as intensified case-finding, contact tracing and preventive therapy); implement policies for early diagnosis; and ensure there is an uninterrupted supply of high-quality anti-TB medicines for children).
6. Engage key stakeholders, and establish effective communication and collaboration among the health care sector and other sectors that address the social determinants of health and access to care.
7. Develop integrated family- and community-centered strategies to provide comprehensive and effective services at the community level.
8. Address research gaps in the following areas: epidemiology, fundamental research, the development of new tools (such as diagnostics, medicines and vaccines); and address gaps in operational research, and research looking at health systems and services.
9. Close all funding gaps for childhood TB at the national and global levels.
10. Form coalitions and partnerships to study and evaluate the best strategies for preventing and managing childhood TB, and for improving tools used for diagnosis and treatment.
An estimated 500,000 children are diagnosed with tuberculosis each year. It’s a contagious infection that mainly affects the lungs; however, it can spread throughout the body just as easily. If left untreated, TB can damage a person’s lungs to the point where he or she can no longer breathe.
Once the leading cause of death in the U.S., tuberculosis now infects roughly one-third of the world’s population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This does not mean more than two billion people are sick because of the bacteria, however. TB can either exist in a person’s body as latent TB or as the disease itself. Latent TB is not contagious and shows no symptoms. It’s for this reason that people with HIV are highly susceptible to TB disease if they already carry the bacteria.
Each day, almost 200 children under the age of 15 die from tuberculosis, the WHO report states.
"Any child who dies from TB is one child too many," Dr. Mario Raviglione, Global Tuberculosis Program director at WHO, told the BBC. "TB is preventable and treatable, and this roadmap focuses on immediate actions governments and partners can take to stop children dying."