World TB Day is Sunday, March 24.
Fighting tuberculosis (TB) is extremely tough on any patient. Treatment consists of multiple pills each day over the course of at least six months. The medicines often have significant side effects and adhering to treatment often infringes on a patient’s ability to work and interact with his/her family. As prolonged and harsh as it sounds, that is actually the best case scenario for a TB patient. Those who contract or develop TB that is resistant to “first-line” treatments (the most commonly prescribed TB medicines) will be prescribed a still harsher combination of thousands of pills and shots—a draining course of treatment with greater side effects that can last as long as two years. And even then, a clean bill of health is far from guaranteed.
As grueling and debilitating as TB treatment may be for an adult, a child who is infected with TB will face an even rougher road. Treatments for children with TB are the same for children as they are for adults, but the recommended dosages are different. However, pediatric-appropriate versions of TB treatment remain absent from the marketplace. In 2010, WHO issued new guidelines for pediatric TB treatments, however, in the years since, child-friendly TB treatments in the correct dosages have not been produced. Parents or caregivers are left to split or crush adult pills for children, estimating the proper amount of medicine. If they guess wrong, children can be undertreated, resulting in poor outcomes and the development of drug-resistant forms of TB.
Furthermore, because treatments are designed for adults, none of the medicines used to treat children come in formulations that are easy for children to take. This means every dose becomes an adventure for the little ones and their caregivers—a struggle lasting as long as two years in attempt to cure the disease.
As a parent, I find it hard to understand how children with TB can be so neglected. Even among TB patients, who are underserved as a whole, children are particularly vulnerable and face the toughest road to cure when sick. But we’re going to change that! USAID is teaming up with TB Alliance, which is dedicated to the research and development of better TB drugs, to change course, help our children, and brighten the future prospects for the youngest TB patients.
In this new partnership, efforts will promote new understanding of the problem that can help lead to the sustainable supply of new TB drug formulations for children. And a stronger emphasis on patient care will help the world’s youngest TB patients comfortably and confidently survive one of the most persistent diseases ever known.