Here in Zimbabwe, I’ve seen firsthand how very difficult Tuberculosis (TB) is for children, adolescents and families, especially those living with HIV. Despite being preventable and treatable, TB remains one of the world’s deadliest infections. Each day, close to 28,000 people worldwide fall ill with this disease and over 4,000 people – including 650 children – lose their lives to it. Global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 66 million lives since the year 2000, but sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed years of progress. For the first time in over a decade, TB deaths increased in 2020.
Why have children in particular been so neglected in the TB response? The lack of dedicated funding for pediatric TB interventions has been highlighted repeatedly as a key barrier.
Thankfully, we’re starting to see some hopeful signs. In 2018, UN Member States committed to a global target of providing TB preventive treatment to at least 30 million people, including 4 million children aged under 5 years, who are household contacts of people diagnosed with TB. The Rome Action Plan 2020 included a dedicated focus on accelerating research and development of priority TB drugs and formulations for children living with HIV. At the UN high-level meeting on HIV and AIDS in June 2021, countries committed to ensuring that 90% of people living with HIV receive TB preventive treatment by 2025.
While this progress is welcome, many challenges remain. To address TB among children and save lives, GNP+ calls urgently for the following:
- Create awareness within communities on pediatric TB in order to generate demand for quality childhood TB services and keep national authorities accountable for delivering them
- Make childhood TB a priority in global, regional and national agendas and investments
- Act on commitments made by national leaders and heads of state during high-level intergovernmental forums
- Engage policy-makers to develop sustainable approaches to prevent and tackle child and adolescent TB
- Ensure country availability and distribution of child-friendly formulations of TB medicines
- Speed up integration of TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment with other health services, including those for HIV
- Improve monitoring and evaluation of the TB response and the specific outcomes for children and adolescents
- Better investment in social and economic support systems for households living with HIV, to ensure healthy living conditions contribute towards a more productive society
GNP+ joins WHO in calling for increased investment and research innovation to end TB in children and adolescents and adoption of the most up-to-date guidelines for pediatric TB diagnosis. This is especially critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put progress on TB at risk.
Together, we can raise our voices to demand equitable access to pediatric TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. Whether in Zimbabwe or around the world, children and adolescents deserve no less.
Written by Annah Sango