WHO Unveils Plan to End Childhood TB Deaths

The US government may be shut down, but the World Health Organization is still getting things done. The WHO just launched a new “action plan,” which, if implemented could save the lives of 74,000 children a year who needlessly die from TB. The kicker? All they need is $120 million.

The Roadmap for Childhood TB: Toward Zero Deaths, launched today by global TB leaders in Washington D.C., estimates that US$120 million per year could have a major impact on saving tens of thousands of children’s lives from TB,  including among children infected with both TB and HIV.

Every day, more than 200 children under the age of 15 die needlessly from TB – a disease that is preventable and curable. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 1 in 10 TB cases globally (six to 10 per cent of all TB cases) are among this age group, but that the number could be even higher because many children are simply undiagnosed. The new roadmap builds on the latest knowledge of the disease and identifies clear actions to prevent these child deaths.

The US$120 million a year in new funding for addressing TB in children from governments and donors includes US$40 million for HIV antiretroviral therapy and preventive therapy (to prevent active TB disease) for children co-infected with TB and HIV.

The funds will also go towards improving detection, developing better medicines for children and integrating TB treatment into existing maternal and child health programmes. Getting more paediatric health professionals to actively screen for TB with better tools, i.e. drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, will help capture the full scope of the epidemic and reach more children with life-saving treatment sooner.

It’s worth pointing out that in budgetary terms, $120 million is  paltry sum, especially when spread across multiple donors.  This investment should be a no-brainer for the health community. Let’s hope donors step up.