WITH an estimated one million global paediatric cases, only 43% have been identified, leaving many children in danger of unknowingly hosting the epidemic.
BY VANESSA GONYE
Zimbabwe is in the process of finding ways to ensure that more of these cases are identified and eradicated in a bid to save the innocent lives.
As a result, the Ministry of Health and Child Care with the help of their partners, Unitaid and Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), then launched a four year program, Catalysing Paediatric TB (CapTB), to curb effects of TB in children, from 2017 to 2021.
Currently, the country holds a record of 50% diagnosis of TB cases in children, compared to the 60% set target; children account for only 8% of notified TB cases.
Several paediatric TB patients gave their testimonies, with the help of their parents or guardians, at the launch and one thing was outstanding: a greater number of them were misdiagnosed on numerous occasions, owing to the fact that TB is difficult to diagnose in children.
The CapTB project is meant to address such issues as several ways of detecting TB in children have been availed so as to reach the set target in dealing with paediatric TB.
However, 90% of the testimonials proved that timely intervention to child TB cases is worth it as they were recovering.
Representing Healthcare minister at the launch, the Permanent secretary in the ministry, Gerald Gwinji said paediatric TB was not getting enough attention and was often side-lined as focus is mainly on adult TB.
“TB in children is often missed or overlooked due to difficulties surrounding diagnosis; many programs or projects to combat TB have often focused on adults and very little has been done for children despite the fact that children are living in the same homes with the adult TB patients,” he said.
“The government of Zimbabwe is committed to creating a conducive policy and regulatory environment for paediatric TB and sustain scale up innovative models of paediatric TB care and treatment,” he said.
EGPAF country director, Agnes Mahomva, acknowledged that TB is quite difficult to diagnose and treat in children since many do not have access to the most effective tests and treatments.
“Often, children with TB will go undiagnosed and are ineffectively treated for many other ailments. Worse, if exposed, children are more likely to develop active TB, and are at higher risk of death than adults,” she said.
“TB in children is a race against time. Children with TB must be identified quickly and put on treatment before they become ill. Fortunately, there are innovative diagnostics, treatments and models of care that can help improve this difficult situation.”
Speaking of the CapTB project, Mahomva said it will take advantage of the networks and projects that EGPAF has developed through 17 years of HIV-related work in Zimbabwe, channelling those relationships and that infrastructure into a robust operation combatting TB in all children, regardless of their HIV status.
“The project will seek to bring improved care, including innovative diagnostics and treatments for both active and latent TB, closer to children who desperately need this care. By decentralising and integrating TB care into the wider healthcare system, we are more likely to find children with TB early and be able to effectively save their lives,” she said.
CapTB is a four-year project aimed at contributing to the reduction in paediatric TB morbidity and mortality in nine sub-Saharan African countries.
Its overall goal is to reduce paediatric TB diagnostic and treatment gaps by improving capacity to diagnose the ailment in children and by increasing the uptake of new paediatric Fixed Dose Drug Formulations (FDCs) for the treatment of active and latent TB through models of care.
EGPAF, in conjunction with the ministry of Health and Child Care National TB program will implement 20 pilot sites in the first two years of the project, with roll-out to an additional 30 sites in the last two years to reach a total of 50 sites.
The World Health Organisation, in 2016 estimated that one million children below 15 years were infected with TB but only 434,044 cases were reported. More than 253 000 children die each year from TB. TB is the second leading cause of mortality and morbidity after neonatal complications in the country.