On childhood TB, time for ACTION

When Sipho* was just 18 months old, he began coughing and his feet began to swell.

His mother Masia was sent home from a clinic near their home in Swaziland with medicine for a common cold, but his condition only worsened.  Eventually, Sipho was diagnosed with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis – and so began an exhausting daily odyssey for him and Masia. 

Every day for six months, the pair traveled six kilometers so Sipho could receive a gruelling treatment regimen of injections and crushed pills.

Over the last year we’ve seen major progress towards addressing childhood TB at the global level. The issue gained recognition at international conferences, served as the theme of this year’s World TB Day, and is the subject of new guidelines from the World Health Organization.

As an advocate, I’m thrilled to see childhood TB receive this attention.  But I can’t forget the children like Sipho who are still misdiagnosed and subject to harsh treatment regimens meant for adults.

TB takes the lives of 1.4 million people every year – and children remain largely unreached and uncounted.  If we want to end TB as a killer of children, we need to do more than just talk. It’s time for action.

Unfortunately, many barriers stand in our way – a lack of political will, inadequate funding for TB programs, and failure to invest in research and development for child-friendly diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines.

How do we overcome these challenges? In my opinion, it all comes down to advocacy.

It’s time for civil society, health care workers, governments, and the private sector to come together and ensure no child dies from this preventable and treatable disease.

Civil society groups must hold National TB Programs accountable for including children in their programs, governments should train and support health care workers to diagnose and treat kids with TB, and the private sector must work with regulatory authorities to clarify the development pathway for childhood TB drugs.

For too long we’ve worked in silos, not communicating with one another. We each have a role to play. We’ve built the momentum, now it’s time to act.

Read ACTION's new brief, Children and Tuberculosis: From Neglect to Action, and join the #KidsTB #putkids1st conversation on Twitter

*Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality