Ahead of the International Day of Children, the Stop Tuberculosis (TB) Partnership has pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a setback to the fight against childhood TB. According to the organization, everyday 650 children die from the disease even though TB is preventable and treatable.
“Every single day, more than 650 children die from tuberculosis, a preventable and treatable disease. That is an unacceptable tragedy,” said Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.
“We cannot continue to stand on the sidelines while children fall ill and die, especially when we know how to prevent them from falling ill in the first place and how to treat them when they do so,” she adds.
November 20, is celebrated every year as Children's day.
Held under the theme, ‘A Better Future for Every Child, Kids Take Over,’ the day offers an opportunity to promote and celebrate children’s rights that will build a better world for them.
Unlike COVID-19, TB is a disease that is prevented and treatable but not much funding has been provided by World leaders and the United Nations (UN) to tackle the disease. As a result of this neglect, TB deaths have increased for the first time over a decade.
At a United Nations High Level Meeting (UN HLM) on TB in 2018, world leaders pledged to prevent and treat childhood TB and allocate US$4 million for preventive treatment for children under five years of age, as well as diagnosing and treating 3.2 million children with TB and 115,000 children with drug-resistant TB by 2022.
According to the Global TB Report, only 41% of children with TB have been treated between 2018 and 2020. That figure drops to 11% for children with drug-resistant TB. When it comes to TB prevention, only 29% of the UN HLM target has been met, with 1.2 million household contacts under the age of five benefiting from TB preventive treatment.
The reports added that in 2020, only 59% of people developing TB were diagnosed and treated. For children, this figure was worse at 37%, showing that children face more barriers to accessing TB care compared to adults.
“Children and young adolescents with TB have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – with wider gaps reported by WHO in access to life-saving TB prevention and care,” said Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme. “We need to move forward urgently to ensure access to essential TB services to save young lives and to save our future.”
“Children are the world of tomorrow, and we are failing them on so many fronts – health, poverty, climate,” added Dr. Ditiu. “Not many people realize that a rise in the number of children with TB in a city or country means ongoing and high transmission – as children are infected by the adults around them. It would be so easy to end TB in children, yet we note with dismay the world’s failure to commit sufficient resources to the fight against TB – with less than half of the global target of US$13 billion in annual funding by 2022 available. TB remains the Cinderella of infectious diseases, heavily impacted by the absence of collective commitments to save young lives. We will not accept this situation anymore.”
“Given COVID-19 setbacks, at the current pace of progress, it will take many years before we can save children from illness and death due to TB,” said Dr. Farhana Amanullah, Chair, Child and Adolescent TB (CA TB) Working Group and Member of the Stop TB Partnership Board. “Mortality due to TB is the highest among children, yet funding for this area remains low. We need to speed up, and increase funding for, research and development efforts to develop a new vaccine and new diagnosis tools. COVID-19 has shown us how quickly countries can mobilize money for research; we now need strong commitments and energy to save children’s lives from the second biggest infectious disease killer, TB.”
In the absence of low funding, the Stop TB Partnership has teamed up with the global icon Hello Kitty to raise awareness about TB online including social media, live chats with experts and affected children and their families.
In a live video Dr. Ditiu explained to Hello Kitty the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of TB in children.
Stop TB partnership and Hello Kitty is proposing an interactive quiz online to help people learn about childhood TB.
The Stop TB Partnership is a unique United Nations hosted entity based in Geneva, Switzerland, committed to revolutionizing tuberculosis (TB) space to end the disease by 2030.