The Union highlights child TB on the International Day of Families

Today, on the United Nation’s International Day of Families, The Union highlights the urgent call to action against child tuberculosis (TB).

An estimated 239,000 children die every year from TB. Most of these deaths are preventable. TB is both treatable and curable, but 90 percent of children who die from TB did not receive the standard treatment that could have saved their lives.

Health systems in many countries neglect child TB because it is less contagious than adult TB and because the standard tools used to diagnose TB are less effective in children. This neglect means that every four years, a million children die from a treatable disease. 

Ending the child TB epidemic requires local interventions, sensitive to social and cultural context, to reach at-risk children using simple tools for active screening and diagnosis. Even in resource-limited areas, projects like The Union’s DETECT Child TB are demonstrating that medical professionals can be equipped with the knowledge and tools to diagnose and treat TB in children, with access to care provided at the community level. Screening households where an adult is diagnosed with TB to see if children have been exposed in the home must become the standard implemented everywhere. Where The Union has piloted this approach in Uganda, 72 percent of at-risk children were able to receive preventive TB treatment, up from less than five percent previously.

In the long run, greater investment in research and development is needed to deliver better diagnostics, treatments and an effective vaccine that prevents TB.

To make this possible, we urgently call on governments to take action on the commitments made at the first ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on Ending Tuberculosis, where national leaders recognised TB as a challenge that they are essential to solving. Perhaps most importantly, the Declaration from the High-Level Meeting puts all heads of state and government on record supporting a new approach to ending TB based on human rights.

This means that TB laws, public policies and health practices will need to dramatically change. The human rights based TB agenda sends a clear signal that the scandalous neglect of child TB will no longer be tolerated.

The continuing medical neglect of child TB, resulting in the avoidable deaths of millions of children, is unacceptable. The Union will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of families worldwide so that they can access the basic, lifesaving healthcare for their children that many of us take for granted.

Read more about the impact of child TB in The Union's report 'Silent Epidemic: A call to action against child tuberculosis'.