WHO’s video statement on childhood TB:

 

CHILDHOOD TB – A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC

TB is one of the top ten killers of children worldwide. Every day, up to 200 children lose their lives to TB and every year, up to 74,000 needlessly die. It is estimated that over half a million cases of TB occur in children every year, although researchers believe this figure is much higher as childhood TB is under reported. The true burden of TB in children is unknown due to inadequate surveillance and reporting of childhood TB cases.

Over the past 10 years, 40,000 cases of childhood TB were reported in the EU alone, indicating that TB in children remains a major challenge even within the European Region. Children with TB infection today represent the reservoir of TB disease tomorrow.

 

Why are cases of TB in children going undetected?

Children are going undiagnosed because of a lack of child-friendly diagnostic tools. The most common diagnostic tool used in the world today is microscopic examination of sputum samples in search of TB bacteria. However, children are often unable to produce enough sputum for a sample.

Launched in 2010, the GeneXpert is a revolutionary new diagnostic tool that has been shown to be very effective in diagnosing TB in adults within two hours. Nevertheless, although more effective than using a microscope, the percentage of childhood TB cases detected using GeneXpert is still very low.

When diagnosing children, doctors are often left without a definitive diagnosis and have to piece together a clinical picture based on symptoms that overlap with the symptoms of many other common infections in children. Due to inadequate case detection, it is estimated that a large number of children are suffering from TB and are not being appropriately treated. We need new TB diagnostics that work for children.

 

Isn’t there a TB vaccine that protects children?

The current TB vaccine available, the BCG, is over 90 years old and only protects children from severe forms of TB, like TB meningitis and miliary TB. It does not offer lifelong protection and it does not protect against TB in the lungs. In addition, due to their weakened immune systems the BCG vaccine cannot be given to children who are HIV positive.

Further funding is urgently needed to develop and deliver a new TB vaccine.

 

Why are children with TB more difficult to treat than adults?

No child-specific TB drugs currently exist to treat kids. Children are given up to 15 tablets a day, which are difficult swallow. Sometimes doctors will crush adult tablets and estimate doses, which can lead to over- or under-dosing a child. We need TB treatment options specifically for children.

Stopping TB transmission from adults is the most effective way of preventing childhood TB. Early identification, proper treatment and contact tracing in adults are key TB control strategies needed to eliminate TB in Europe.

 

Personal testimonies of childhood TB:

In 2009 eleven-year-old Jarvis started experiencing chest pains, night sweats, spiking temperatures, loss of appetite and breathlessness. Despite this plethora of symptoms, it took another nine months before Jarvis was diagnosed with TB and received the necessary treatment. Click here to read his story. 

Dr Marc Sprenger, the Director of the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) had TB as a child. In this account, Dr Sprenger reflects on his personal experience and on the challenges Europe faces in addressing this epidemic.

Click here for the WHO’s factsheet on combating TB in children.

Click here for the first-ever targeted roadmap on getting to zero childhood TB deaths ‘Roadmap for Childhood TB’.

Click here for WHO’s report ‘No more crying, no more dying. Towards zero TB deaths in Children’.

To find out more about how TB affects children, we encourage you to read this reports: Children and Tuberculosis: From Neglect to Action