'Urgent action' needed on child TB

Scar on arm from BCG vaccination
Image caption Child with scar on arm from BCG vaccination

Global health agencies have launched an action plan to reduce child deaths from tuberculosis (TB).

A report led by the World Health Organization says 74,000 lives could be saved each year through better diagnosis and treatment.

Funds of $120m (£74m) a year could have a major impact on children's lives, including among those infected with both TB and HIV, say experts.

The action plan was unveiled in Washington on Tuesday.

Stakeholders include the WHO, Unicef, the Stop TB Partnership and a number of global TB agencies.

The Roadmap for Childhood TB: Toward Zero Deaths builds on the latest knowledge of the disease and highlights actions to prevent child deaths.

Each day almost 200 children under the age of 15 die from tuberculosis, while more than half a million fall ill every year, it says.

"Any child who dies from TB is one child too many," said Dr Mario Raviglione, Global Tuberculosis Programme director at WHO.

"TB is preventable and treatable, and this roadmap focuses on immediate actions governments and partners can take to stop children dying."

The report says there is an urgent need to focus on children. Diagnostic tests and child-friendly drug formulations are lacking, and there is a need for better screening and awareness, it says.

"To get to zero TB deaths, we must focus on the most vulnerable groups and children are the most vulnerable of all," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.

"The steps outlined in this roadmap are simple and low-cost. We owe it to the children of the world to put this plan into action."

Contagious infection

Tuberculosis is a contagious infection that mainly affects the lungs, but may spread to other parts of the body.

If not treated, it can damage the lungs to such an extent that a person cannot breathe properly.

Sometimes, people do not experience any symptoms for many months or even years after being infected.

TB can be treated with antibiotics but is sometimes fatal.

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