A new report, Tuberculosis surveillance in Europe 2009, a joint publication from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO Regional Office for Europe to mark World Tuberculosis Day 2011, provides evidence for concern about the spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and the persistence of TB among children. ECDC is supporting WHO/Europe in developing a regional MDR-TB Plan and concerted actions are being taken to address childhood TB.

While the EU/EEA Member States continue to mark a decline in the overall notification of TB cases, the report highlights the need to address childhood TB as a key component on the way towards TB elimination: Almost 40,000 TB cases in children were notified in the past decade with more than 3,300 reported cases in 2009. In addition, only 19 per cent of all childhood TB cases were confirmed bacteriologically – clearly indicating that TB diagnosis in children remains a major challenge even within the EU/EEA.

Treatment outcome rates are the lowest recorded globally with the highest multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB) rates in the world recorded within the region. The number of deaths and patients lost to follow-up are still a matter for concern. Vulnerable populations, including children, still do not have ready access to quality and timely diagnosis and treatment. This remains a matter of urgency given the high prevalence of multi- and extensively drug-resistant TB (M/XDR-TB) in the Region. In response to the threat of M/XDR-TB, the WHO Regional Office for Europe and its partners are finalising a Consolidated Action Plan for M/XDR-TB, setting a five year strategy to curb the TB drug resistance epidemic in the Region.

Progress towards TB elimination across Europe can only be achieved by addressing the most vulnerable when it comes to TB control and prevention: children. ECDC – in collaboration with the Stop TB Partnership – convened global experts in the field of childhood TB at a meeting in Stockholm during 17 and 18 March 2011 to identify possible strategies to improve diagnostics, treatment and prevention in the field of paediatric TB.

ECDC Director Dr Marc Sprenger, stressed: “Preventing TB infection in children is vital on the way to a TB-free generation in Europe. We need to show serious commitment to improve rapid and quality diagnosis as well as better treatment among children suffering from Tuberculosis.”

“The problem of drug-resistant TB needs bold and concrete actions: failure is not an option. This is why I have set up a Special Project to Prevent and Combat M/XDR-TB” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director Europe. “An important part of our work with scientific and research institutes, and for the Consolidated Action Plan, will be on new and rapid child-friendly diagnostic tools and treatment”.

For more information visit the ECDC website.