The Epidemic We Must Stop Ignoring
Tuberculosis afflicts ten million people every year, and continues to kill more people than any other communicable disease, despite global commitments to eliminate it. But, despite this awareness, TB in children is being systematically ignored, with a quarter-million young lives lost every year.
PARIS – A primary-school student is diagnosed with tuberculosis in a leafy neighborhood outside Washington, DC. An infant with TB meningitis is transported by helicopter to a hospital in Eastern Canada. A preschool student in Smarves, France, is showing symptoms of TB a year after a classmate from the same school died from the disease.
These are just three victims of a TB epidemic that will afflict one million children this year. Among those who are fortunate enough to get the standard antibiotic treatment and have no complicating factors such as HIV, 99% will survive. And yet 90% of the children who die from TB have been deprived of treatment, and a quarter-million children will die from the disease this year alone. There are no nuances to this story: health-care authorities around the world are leaving kids with TB to fate.
If this sounds outrageous, consider the opening lines of a 2016 research paper by experts from Imperial College London, the Medical Research Council, and UNICEF. “Until recently, pediatric tuberculosis has been relatively neglected by the broader TB and the maternal and child health communities,” the authors write. “Human rights-based approaches to children affected by TB could be powerful; however, awareness and application of such strategies is not widespread.” In other words, children with TB have been failed by the very communities meant to serve them, but few people are even aware of the problem.