24 March 2012 - Geneva - On this World TB Day we want to make the world aware that children are suffering and dying from tuberculosis (TB) and that this is shameful.
My message for this World TB Day is directed especially to the people most affected by childhood TB and those who can do the most to stop it.
To parents whose children are affected by TB: It takes strength and courage to help your child. You've had to see your son or daughter dangerously ill, which is so frightening, and every day to coax your child to swallow large pills or eat bitter, crushed up medicine. Or worse, if your child has drug-resistant TB, to accept painful injections. Together let us call on donors, researchers and the pharmaceutical industry to create and produce child-friendly TB drug formulations! This would not be complex or expensive to do - they just need pressure from us to do it and the will to get it done. Sign the Call to Action on Childhood TB.
To children whose lives have been touched by TB - because you have had TB or because a family member or friend has been sick with it. You know what TB means. You know what it feels like, and you know it is not easy. Speak up! Make sure the people around you know the symptoms of TB, where to go for help and that TB can be cured. You can help other people overcome fears they may have, and your voice can make a huge difference!
To government programmes, civil society and the private sector: We are not finding thousands upon thousands of children affected by TB because we are not looking for them as we should and because we are not treating childhood TB as a family and community issue. All children who have been exposed to TB through someone living in their household need TB treatment if they are ill with TB, and this costs just US $.50 a day. If they are not ill they need preventive TB treatment with isoniazid, which costs only US$ .03 per day. This is so simple and inexpensive it is shocking we are not doing this already in every case.
To health workers: You can be the voice for change. Spread the word about childhood TB to your colleagues. Whenever you are in touch with an adult with TB, ask about any children the person has had contact with, and follow up. Make your professional association or employer aware that health workers should be knowledgeable about and properly trained on childhood TB.
To research funders: Vaccine research got a tremendous boost this month with the generous donation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Aeras and the launch of Tuberculosis Vaccines: A Strategic Blueprint for the Next Decade. But where are we with diagnostics? We haven't seen a significant increase in funding for two years. We cannot diagnose TB in children using the tools we have, and that is an outrage. We need cheap and rapid tests that can detect active TB disease through a marker present in blood or urine and can be used in any health facility. We are not where we should be in developing new TB drugs. Think about what it means for small children to take TB treatment for six months! You need to assign much more urgency to the quest for a shortened TB treatment and childhood formulations.
To all our partners: Thank you for your hard work and dedication. I especially want to thank those of you who are working at grass roots. Together we can stop TB in our children's lifetimes! We can reach the goal of zero TB deaths in children.