Children and Tuberculosis: Exposing a Hidden Epidemic

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“Tuberculosis (TB) remains among the top ten killers of children worldwide, yet virtually no public or political attention is paid to TB as a children’s health issue,” and at least 1 million children became sick with TB in 2009. That’s according to a new issue brief released today by Advocacy to Control TB Internationally (ACTION), an internationally partnership of civil society advocates working to mobilize resources to treat and prevent the spread of TB, a global disease that kills one person every ten seconds.

The brief, entitled “Children and Tuberculosis: Exposing a Hidden Epidemic,” calls on readers to take immediate action to stop TB from needlessly infecting and killing the world’s young. The document explores what TB is, the different types of TB, how it’s treated, and how prevalent TB and drug resistant strains are among children throughout the world.  Notably the brief points out that there is a dearth of knowledge about the extent of childhood TB because in most places, data is not collected on pediatric TB cases.

The brief also covers what makes children particularly vulnerable to TB infection, such as the inherently weak immune systems among babies and young children. That coupled with issues such as poverty and cramped living conditions, orphanhood, malnutrition, and HIV make a recipe for infection.

“According to Dr. Jeffery Starke, a leading TB specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital, childhood TB ‘is a fundamentally different disease from adult tuberculosis. Its proper diagnosis, treatment and prevention require specific planning and resources. We must consider the unique nature of childhood TB if we’re to successfully eliminate TB anywhere in the world,’” the brief reports.

The brief outlines the challenges ahead, including the dire need for a new and more effective vaccine for children, treatment options specifically for children, and the need to include children in TB drug clinical research trials to address these needs.

ACTION is hosting a webinar Wednesday September 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern to review the new brief.  ACTION’s Mandy Slutsker will provide in-depth analysis of the latest research concerning TB’s effect on children.

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