ELIZABETH Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) President and Chief Executive Officer, Charles “Chip” Lyons recently said although tuberculosis is preventable and easily curable, it was sad that a total 700 children die from the disease globally every day.
Mr Lyons was speaking during a launch of the Catalyzing Pediatric Tuberculosis Innovation Project (CaP TB), a partnership with the Ministry of Health, in Maseru on Wednesday last week.
The four-year project, seeks to double diagnosis of TB in children and specifically ensure the diagnosis and treatment of 1,100 children with TB, in addition to initiating more than 7,000 children with latent TB treatment.
Globally, less than half a million children who fall sick of TB each year are diagnosed, while over 96 percent of children who die of TB never receive treatment.
Mr Lyons said while TB is curable, it is the second leading cause of death after AIDS in Lesotho. Children are the most vulnerable and often lag behind adults in accessing quality and comprehensive TB care and treatment.
“As defenders of children’s health, those of us at the EGPAF are deeply troubled by how the tuberculosis epidemic impacts children and families, and we are determined to help find and implement innovative and effective solutions,” Mr Lyons said.
“At the same time, as an organization that focuses primarily on pediatric HIV and AIDS, EGPAF recognizes the strategic importance of this project with respect to ending both epidemics.”
Mr Lyons further said TB and HIV often forge a fatal partnership stating that HIV is a leading risk factor for contracting TB and experiencing poor treatment results; at the same time, TB is the most common life-threatening opportunistic infection afflicting HIV-positive individuals, especially children, he said.
“Fighting these two diseases simultaneously and integrating our responses to the epidemics, is critical if we are to deliver on the promises we have made to defeat them.”
Mr Lyons said the project promises to improve outcomes for HIV positive children specifically, by protecting them from one of the most threatening opportunistic infections a child with a compromised immune system can face.
“When available, treatment for pediatric TB has a high success rate. But ensuring that drug formulations are child-friendly and accessible has been a stumbling block in the global response to the epidemic,” he said.
He added that through CaP TB, the Ministry of Health and EGPAF will dramatically increase access to new child-friendly drugs for TB treatment.
“In addition to sub-optimal medications, timely and accurate diagnosis has been a major challenge in fighting pediatric TB. But the new availability of diagnostic technology (Sputum Induction Device), which CaP will introduce at dozens of new health care sites, may soon allow us to overcome that challenge as well,” Mr Lyons said.
The new technology will help to collect samples from children.
Also speaking at the launch, the Minister of Health, Mr Nkaku Kabi said the day marks one of the milestones in TB control, adding that the new project will focus on addressing childhood TB in Lesotho.
He explained children are often overlooked due to difficulties surrounding diagnosis while the design of programmes to combat TB usually focused on adults.
This, he said, was despite the fact that children are exposed to the disease as they live with the adult TB patients.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally, an estimated one million children became ill with TB and 250,000 children died of TB in 2016-including 52,000 children with HIV associated TB.
“However, the actual burden of TB in children is higher, given the challenge in diagnosing childhood TB. In order to combat the disease in children, WHO and its partners have come up with the strategy to meet the goal of zero TB deaths among children worldwide.”
Mr Kabi said the launch came at an opportune time when the country, through the Ministry of Health will commemorate World TB day on 24 March.
He further emphasised the urgency for greater awareness and increased screening for TB in children learning at Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers. “Community involvement and engagement will be critical as we endeavor to find these children. Let us build on the existing structures, strengthen them where they are weak and find as many cases as possible,” Mr Kabi said.