African countries have united to fight tuberculosis in children, one of the most overlooked diseases due to difficulties surrounding its diagnosis.
The fight comes on the heels of the recent launch of the Catalysing Paediatric TB (CaP TB) at Beatrice Road Infectious Disease Hospital by the Zimbabwean government in conjunction with the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) and the United Nations International Drug Purchase Facility (Unitaid).
The CaP TB programme will be running over the next four years and similar programmes will be rolled out in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Lesotho and India.
According to the World Health Organisation, the diagnosis of tuberculosis in children is difficult because children under the age of 10 years usually cannot cough up enough sputum to be sent for laboratory investigations to confirm the infection of tuberculosis.
The diagnosis is thus largely based on the clinical features of cough, weight loss, with a history of close contact with an infectious adult TB patient.
The UN agency notes that globally over 250,000 children develop TB and 100,000 children will continue to die each year.
The permanent secretary for Health and Child Care Major General Dr Gerald Gwinji, in a statement posted on the Ministry of Health and Child Care website, said the government is committed to addressing the plight of children with TB.
“TB in children is often missed or overlooked due to difficulties surrounding diagnosis. Many programs to combat TB have often focused on adults and little has been done for children despite the fact that children are living in the same homes with the adult TB patients.
“The Government of Zimbabwe is committed to creating a policy and regulatory environment for pediatric TB. We want to scale up innovative models of pediatric TB care and treatment,” said Dr Gwinji.
The project is aimed at increasing diagnosis and treatment of TB in children.
Health experts say tuberculosis and malnutrition often go together, and a child with TB disease may present as failure to gain weight with loss of energy and a cough lasting for more than three weeks.
In HIV infected children the risk of developing TB meningitis is very high and often results in deafness, blindness, paralysis and mental retardation.
In 2016, an estimated one million children became ill with TB.