Every child has a right to life and to health, yet 1.2 million children and young adolescents fell ill with TB in 2021. Over 200 000 children lost their lives to TB in the same year, and as much as 80% of them had not reached their fifth birthday. This year’s World Children’s Day comes at a time when the world is battling a global COVID-19 pandemic, and is faced with geopolitical conflict, economic downturn and food insecurity, all of which are broader determinants of TB. The impact of these factors on the TB epidemic will be disproportionately felt by the vulnerable, including children.
WHO’s Global TB Report highlighted the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB services around the world, including for children and young adolescents. In 2021, the number of children with TB aged below 5 years who were diagnosed and notified was 17% lower than in 2019, compared to a 9% drop in those 15 years and above. Progress in provision of TB preventive treatment (TPT) to eligible children also remains slow, with less than a third of eligible child contacts under the age of 5 receiving TPT in 2021. The situation is particularly worse for children affected by conflicts in various regions of the world, which are often accompanied by forced migration and limited access to health services.
“Access to timely and quality TB care is an essential right for all children and our responsibility as adults,” said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme. “Children with TB who are diagnosed and treated have very good treatment outcomes. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that we find, diagnose and treat every child with TB, including drug-resistant TB, and ensure access to preventive treatment for all eligible children and adolescents.”
WHO is working closely with countries to ensure that children and adolescents access the latest tools and services in line with the new WHO guidance, to reduce unnecessary suffering and death due to TB. Furthermore, WHO in collaboration with UNHCR and CDC is rolling out practical guidance and supporting efforts to ensure continuity of TB prevention and care services among refugees and other populations in humanitarian settings, including for children.
Children and adolescents are increasingly getting engaged in efforts to end TB, as advocates and champions. In several settings TB awareness building is undertaken in schools with the engagement of the Ministry of Education, as part of multisectoral engagement promoted by WHO. Adolescents play a more active role, as demonstrated through ongoing youth engagement efforts through WHO’s 1+1 Initiative. Over 30,000 young people from around the world are engaged in youth mobilization and awareness building activities to end TB across the world. This highlights the importance of engaging children and adolescents as changemakers in the heart of the TB response, helping to co-create solutions that address the specific needs of young people. We need the power of youth with their innovative thinking and radical approaches if we are to succeed in winning the fight against TB.
As we mark World Children’s Day that is commemorated on November 20th, we need to work together to ensure the right to health for every child affected and adolescents everywhere, and their engagement in efforts to ensure a world free of TB. Their young lives and futures should not be endangered by a preventable and curable disease like TB.
Source: World Health Organization