Statistics about TB in children make shocking reading, especially because TB is preventable and curable. Yet in 2015, 240,000 children died of TB, which is 660 deaths every day, including 40,000 TB deaths among children living with HIV. Eighty per cent of child TB deaths occur in children younger than five. At least 1 million children fall ill with tuberculosis (TB) every year and researchers estimate that as many as 67 million children are infected with TB (latent TB) and are therefore at risk of developing the disease in the future.
What makes these facts even more shocking is first, that of the 1 million children who became ill with TB less than 40 per cent of cases were notified, and secondly, in 2015, 96 per cent of deaths occurred in children not receiving anti-tuberculosis treatment, when quality assured child-friendly TB medications are available.
TB continues to be overlooked as an important cause of morbidity and mortality in children and adolescents, and this contributes to a lack of commitment and resources for childhood TB. Improved diagnostics, vaccines, and medications for children are needed to eliminate TB and efforts will be needed to address the woefully inadequate investment for their development. To end unnecessary sickness and death among children, governments must lead and act. TB must be addressed in the context of child health and survival, as an important cause of disease and death. TB must be addressed as a major cause of death among children with HIV.
On 26 September 2018, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting on the fight against tuberculosis, under the theme “United to end tuberculosis: an urgent global response to a global epidemic”. At the high-level meeting, United Nations member states will meet to negotiate and adopt a Political Declaration on Ending TB. This event is an enormous opportunity to build political will to end TB, and it is very important that the discussions include churches, faith communities and related institutions, for making sure that each government is represented at the highest level.
Religious leaders and faith communities have an opportunity to speak out and demand action is taken by their governments and by the international community. To make sure that the meeting goes beyond mere rhetoric, faith communities must be engaged and act to help ensure a meaningful outcome. The World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is encouraging faith leaders and people of faith to ask to their governments to take action on two issues:
- Governments must send high level delegations to attend this High Level Meeting, with representation by Ministers of Health, Foreign Affairs, if not Heads of State;
- Governments should commit to achieve the following targets in the Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on TB:
- I. By 2019, ALL states have established an Inter-Ministry Task Force and developed a funded action plan to address child TB comprehensively across maternal, child and adolescent populations.
- II. By 2022, 90% of children with household exposure to an infectious TB case (2.4 million children <5yrs of age, and HIV-infected children of any age) receive preventive therapy each year.
- III. By 2022, 90% of children with TB and multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) are diagnosed (respectively 900,000 and 28,800 each year), put on appropriate treatment and reported to National TB Programmes.
- IV. By 2022, countries increase their research funding to address the needs of children, especially the development of new child-friendly diagnostics, treatments and an improved vaccine.
It’s time for religious leaders and the faith community to speak out to ensure no child dies of TB.