TB treatment: In a news that should sound warning bells for the health establishment in the country, India accounts for the highest number of paediatric tuberculosis cases in the world, a problem that gets compounded by the fact that the country has also recorded the maximum gap between children who require preventive therapy and those who actually receive it.
The findings are part of a report that was released at the 71st World Health Assembly — the decision-making body of World Health Organization (WHO) — by the international voluntary scientific organisation, The Union.
Data analysed across 20 countries showed that India recorded 1.2 lakh children, the maximum, who contracted TB in 2016, followed by China at 53,000 and Philippines at 37,000 children aged up to 14. The report also showed that only 1.84 percent of children actually receives preventive TB treatment.
According to an Indian Express report, the 1.84 percent children in the country who receive preventive TB treatment are the ones who do not have active TB, but live in contact with infected TB patients and are prone to the bacterial infection.
Under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), a six-month regimen is provided in the country as a preventive therapy. While stating numbers, the report by The Union said that out of the projected 3.6 lakh Indian children who are in need for preventive therapy, only 6,637 (1.84 per cent) received it in 2016.
J P Nadda, the Union Health Minister, while speaking on the sidelines of the 71st World Health Assembly said, “The goal to eliminate TB by 2025 is achievable. We have already created a system for screening and treatment. Active surveillance is on. There are now 1,100 plus GeneXperts machines available and nutrition schemes have already been launched.”
The Union report further said that most TB-related deaths in children occur in young children who have not been diagnosed or treated, representing a missed opportunity for prevention. “The burden of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in children is still largely unknown, but it is estimated that less than 10 per cent of all children with MDR-TB are detected and treated,” the report says.
Deputy director general at the WHO, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said, “We have to reach out to children under five, that is still missing. The household contacts are at highest risk.” He added, “Mumbai slums have so many people who share a single room, especially migrant workers. We need to first do contact tracing and then expand to latent TB population.”
Dr Vidhya Ganesh, deputy director (Program division) at UNICEF in New York said, “There are four gaps we are looking at, in prevention, research, diagnosis and treatment. The findings of the gap in preventive therapy for paediatric TB are new for us. The hidden epidemic has to be dealt with at primary health care. The most vulnerable are children with co-infection of TB, HIV and malnourishment.”