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Childhood TB remains a global hidden epidemic

Each year, almost half a million babies and children become ill with tuberculosis (TB) and as many as 70,000 are estimated to die because of the disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children under 3 years of age and those with severe malnutrition or weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for developing TB.

“Although death rates are down by 40% compared to 1990 and millions of lives have been saved, unfortunately, to a large extent, children have been left behind. Childhood TB remains a hidden epidemic in most countries. It is time to act and address it," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department.

In terms of diagnosis, “TB can be hard to diagnose. Children under the age of 10 years usually cannot cough up enough sputum to be sent for laboratory investigations to confirm the infection of tuberculosis,” revealed Dr. Raviglione.

In the Philippines, data from the Philippine Coalition Against TB (PhilCAT) recorded 26,000 TB cases in 2010, and 14, 527 of them were childhood TB.

According to Dr. Cleotilde Hidalgo How of PhilCAT, malnutrition, congested households, poor access to health facilities and ignorance are the risk factors for TB in the country.

“Childhood TB can accumulate future adult TB cases when not diagnosed early and treated adequately,” said Dr. How.

To address the problem caused by TB, the country is doubling its efforts towards early detection and treatment of tuberculosis. The Department of Health (DOH) has ordered community health teams to monitor the treatment of tuberculosis patients especially of the vulnerable groups in Metro Manila.

Currently, the only vaccine available for TB is the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) which offers limited protection against severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis, in young children. WHO said scientists are actively searching for a fully effective vaccine to protect children and adults against all forms of TB.