Jackson from the US was six-weeks-old when he first showed symptoms of Tuberculosis or TB. It took another six weeks and three doctors before he was diagnosed with TB. The delayed diagnosis nearly cost him his life.
“It’s a very old disease. It just doesn’t make any sense. And not only that, for children, for babies, it’s heartbreaking,” said Kristine East, Jackson’s mother.
Jackson’s case was highlighted at the release of a roadmap towards ending childhood TB by 10 global TB and child agencies in New York recently. He represents the nearly 10 lakh children in the 0-14 age group who developed TB across the world in 2017. Of these children, nearly 2,33,000 died. Ninety six per cent of the deaths took place in children who did not reach physicians and could not access TB treatment. Many more are dying undiagnosed and undetected.
Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General, World Health Organisation (WHO), said, “Recent data has shown that 65 per cent of TB is actually missed in children under the age of five. Even studies in the Madhya Pradesh and other states have shown if you start looking for TB in the children admitted for treatment of malnutrition you actually end up finding quite a lot.”
TB in children is relatively difficult to diagnose because children show symptoms that are similar to common diseases.
Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director, Global Tuberculosis (TB) Programme, WHO, said, “It needs, as you see, even more capacity from the physician and regular training and engagement in the newest tools, knowledge about new diagnostics and new medicines and new drug regimens and the very latest recommendations and guidelines on treatment.”
Experts call for improving detection, developing better treatments and vaccines, scaling up prevention and integrating TB treatment into existing child health programmes. The focus on ending TB in children and adolescents is vital for the South East Asia region, which has nearly 50 per cent of the global TB burden.
TB in children is estimated to be 10 per cent of all TB cases in India. Of the four lakh people who die of TB in the country every year, 40,000 are children.
If India has to reach its ambitious goal of ending TB by 2025, it will have to make children TB free.