Childhood TB Remains a Hidden Epidemic in Most Countries

The World Health Organization today reported that childhood TB remains a hidden epidemic in most countries.

WHO reports that two hundred children die from TB every day. Yet it costs less than three cents a day to provide therapy that will prevent children from becoming ill with TB and 50 cents a day to provide treatment that will cure the disease.

WHO and the Stop TB Partnership have warned that childhood TB continues to be overlooked despite availability of treatment, as the disease often goes undiagnosed in children under the age of 15. Lack access to health services or health workers do not recognize the signs and symptoms of TB in that age group also make the children vulnerable to the disease.

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

WHO recommends that any child living with a TB patient who has an unexplained fever be evaluated by a health worker for TB.

Those found to be healthy should be protected against the disease through preventive therapy with the drug known as isoniazid, while those who are ill should receive full treatment, WHO stressed.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries to step up their efforts to prevent tuberculosis by increasing access to treatments and improving the quality of their health services to be able to “stop TB in our lifetime.”

Mr. Ban stresses that TB remains a leading cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide, second only to HIV/AIDS.

Last year alone, 8.4 million people contracted TB and 1.4 million died from the disease, Mr. Ban noted.

“For too long, the response has been insufficient.” – Mr. Ban

Mr. Ban underlines that countries have the means to prevent unnecessary deaths, but need to implement policies that not only raise awareness about the issue but provide accessible healthcare to their citizens.

Mr. Ban also calls for “intensified global solidarity to ensure that the children and people of all the countries get medical support, so that they can breathe with health.

WHO notes that the world has made progress on TB: death rates are down 40 per cent overall compared to 1990 and millions of lives have been saved.

However, children have been left behind, and childhood TB remains a hidden epidemic in most countries. It is time to act and address it everywhere, WHO reported.

More than 2 billion people or a third of the world’s total population, are infected with mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is now the world’s seventh-leading cause of death. It killed 1.8 million people worldwide in 2009, up from 1.77 million in 2007. It is one of the three primary diseases that are closely linked to poverty, the other two being AIDS and malaria.

Established in 2001 by WHO, the Stop TB Partnership seeks to realize the goal of eliminating TB as a public health problem and, ultimately, to obtain a world free of TB. It comprises a network of international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

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