For years the most helpless victims of tuberculosis have also been the least noticed, although they are estimated to comprise up to 10 percent — or more, as they often go uncounted as well — of people sick with the disease worldwide. They are children, younger that 15 years old, whose lives are taken when they have hardly begun, by a preventable curable disease.
On Tuesday a plan released by agencies and organizations leading the worldwide fight against tuberculosis spelled out how to save the estimated 200 young lives lost daily to TB. The Roadmap for Childhood Tuberculosis lists 10 steps to address the special needs of children and to include them in proven interventions.
At the same time, it highlights some of the reasons attention to childhood tuberculosis has lagged. They include the known vicious circle of child tuberculosis — more difficult to diagnose, it is under reported, and then under prioritized. They also include that because children with tuberculosis are less infectious, they are less of a public health priority, and a belief that the one existing vaccine protects children longer and better than it does. But it also points to a gap: that failures to pursue more answers in addressing childhood TB are “largely attibutable to insufficient funding and inadequate interest from industry.”
A collaboration of the World Health Organization, Stop TB Partnership, Treatment Acton Group, UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID, and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the Roadmap gathers in one place recommendations that have been made before, and also puts a price tag on them. The rough cost — at least $120 million a year would include the approximately $40 million it would take to get antiretroviral treatment and preventive TB treatment to children who are coinfected with HIV and TB. Collected from governments and donors it also would support:
- Including the needs of children and adolescents in research, policy development and clinical practices;
- Collecting, reporting better data including on prevention;
- Developing policy guidance, training and reference materials for health care workers;
- Fostering local expertise and leadership;
- Making use of intervention opportunities;
- Actively involving physicians and treatment supporters and community members in efforts to detect and treat TB;
- Developing family and community based strategies;
- Address research gaps
- Form coalitions and partnerships to improve tools for diagnosis and treatment.