TB Alliance will focus on pediatric TB in 2015

Children near a tuberculosis ward at the Farah Hospital in Afghanistan. Children often go misdiagnosed or untreated for the disease. Photo by: Rylan K. Albrigh / isafmedia / CC BY

The fight against tuberculosis is largely fought “in the shadows,” one expert told Devex, but few realize that efforts to combat the disease often overlook one of the most visible populations in health advocacy — children.

The TB Alliance announced earlier this week that it has named two new members to its board of trustees, and has seen other high-level staff changes in the last year, but these are not the only shifts in one of world’s leading tuberculosis medical research organizations. The new year will inaugurate new focus for the organization, which seeks to hone its resources in 2015 on the world’s TB-infected children, as well as those children most at-risk in TB-endemic countries.

“Pediatric TB has lived in the shadows for too long,” Derek Ambrosino, a spokesman from TB Alliance told Devex. “In addition to more child-appropriate treatments, we need to do a better job of finding those children with TB — diagnosing them quickly and getting them into treatment programs so they can get cured.”

Children often go misdiagnosed or untreated for TB which is one reason why many experts feel pediatric TB has been historically underestimated, Ambrosino said.

There are currently no TB pills or injections available in child-safe doses, he explained, so even when children are diagnosed correctly, medical personnel and parents are often forced to cut full-sized treatments down to smaller sizes.

Children and TB: Breaking the cycle of poverty and neglect

TB is already underfunded, according to the Stop TB Partnership, a coalition of TB-focused organizations operating through U.N. Office for Project Services. Current funding levels amount to only one-third of what is required, according to the coalition’s projections, while funding for new diagnostic research amounts to only one-sixth of necessary funds, according to data compiled by the Stop TB Partnership and the Treatment Action Group.

“[Pediatric TB] is an emerging field … and also an underfunded area where one looking to make an impact can really make a difference,” Ambrosino said.

Gail Cassell, vice president of the Infectious Disease Research Group, told Devex in November that pediatric TB is also likely raging silently in some of the world’s most isolated countries. North Korea sent a delegation of scientists to Stanford in 2013 to acquire medical research. And experts say the use of outdated TB drugs in Russia is likely fueling drug resistance there.

“Case-finding” — the process of identifying, then treating or correcting the treatment of TB infections — would likely be the first priority in anti-TB efforts in Russia, Cassell explained.

The World Health Organization indicated last week that a new BRICS Bank will likely prioritize TB. Three countries leading the bank’s development — Russia, India and China — suffer from disproportionately high TB burdens.

Another country might emerge from isolation to get involved in the global TB fight. Iran has been rumored to be planning a TB-focused summit for March, though details of that event have yet to be made public.

What other changes in focus are you noticing in the new year within global health organizations?

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.