More than 322 000 children and young adolescents of up to 15 years of age suffer from Tuberculosis in a number of African countries, Tanzania included.
The figure also accounts for a third of tuberculosis cases among those less than 15 years of age worldwide, where a child dies from the disease within every 120 seconds.
The African Union and the World Health Organization are thus calling for immediate measures to end the significant toll of tuberculosis among children in Africa.
This is according to the official dispatch from the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa.
The appeal is made jointly with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and the Stop TB Partnership on the side-lines of the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lomé, Togo.
Africa is home to 17 of the 30 countries with the highest tuberculosis burden globally.
Over 4 million people suffer from active tuberculosis in Africa, with the disease causing more than 650,000 deaths every year.WHO
The particular concern according to WHO, is that two-thirds of children in the region are unreported or undiagnosed for the disease, leading to an increased risk of rapid disease progression and mortality.
This is especially in younger children. It is only about 32 percent of children under-five who get diagnosed.
Low detection of tuberculosis arises from challenges in specimen collection as well as bacteriological confirmation of the disease among children who can display non-specific clinical symptoms.
Children and young adolescents usually access primary health care services in facilities where the capacity to diagnose tuberculosis is non-existent.
Malnutrition, a common problem in Africa, helps to worsen the impact of tuberculosis.
Globally, 19 percent of all tuberculosis cases are associated with malnutrition.
“Childhood tuberculosis fuelled with malnutrition poses major health challenges in the African Union Member States,” says Minata Samate Cessouma, the African Union Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development.
“Undernourished children with tuberculosis usually develop extensive and severe complications. It is important to integrate tuberculosis diagnosis in nutrition programmes and to identify the disease in children quickly.”
“Tuberculosis among children in Africa has been occurring in the shadows and until now has been largely ignored. We hope this call will galvanize action, ensuring no child in Africa is lost to a disease which in many parts of the world is now history,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
“Every two minutes a child dies of tuberculosis somewhere in the world even though tuberculosis is curable and preventable. Children with TB hardly spread the disease but are always infected by an adult, so their suffering is a metric of failures to diagnose and treat tuberculosis in children,” said the Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Dr Lucica Ditiu.
Under the WHO End TB Strategy, countries should aim to reduce TB cases by 80 percent and cut deaths by 90 percent by 2030 compared with 2015.
The strategy also sets key milestones that countries should cross by 2020 and 2025 if they are to end the disease.
The 2020 milestone sought a 35 percent reduction in tuberculosis deaths and 20 percent decline in cases.
Only six countries with high tuberculosis burden met the 2020 case reduction milestone and just six achieved the target to reduce deaths by 35 percent.
“Should we fail to prioritize children and adolescents in these efforts, we will ultimately fail at achieving our goal of realizing a future free from tuberculosis,” says the President of EGPAF, Chip Lyons.
Partners called on African countries to prioritize funding for tuberculosis prevention and control and allocate sufficient financial, technical and human resources to accelerate progress towards ending the disease in children and adolescents.
Funding for tuberculosis control in Africa remains low, stifling efforts to meet the global target of ending the disease by 2030.
The African region requires an annual US$ 1.3 billion for tuberculosis prevention and treatment every year.
Countries contribute only 22 percent of the needed budget while external funding accounts for 34 percent. The rest of the budget remains unfunded.