TB Alliance and its partners announced on Wednesday the availability of child-friendly tuberculosis (TB) medicines in the correct doses.
The improved treatments are the first to meet the dosage guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010.
According to the WHO, at least 1 million children become ill with TB each year and 140,000 children die of this curable disease. To date, children around the world have not yet had access to appropriate TB medicines.
The availability of correctly dosed medications will improve treatment for children everywhere,” said Dr. Mel Spigelman, President and CEO of TB Alliance, an international non-profit organisation, ahead of the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town, South Africa.
TB now ranks as the world’s leading infectious disease killer along with HIV. The disease is curable with treatment, which consists of multiple drugs and must be taken for a minimum of six months. Children need different doses of TB medicines than adults.
The importance of proper TB treatment in children
Today, for parents and care providers to approximate the correct dose for a child, they must crush or chop available drugs, and piece together the treatment regimen. Splitting TB pills, which gives the medication a bitter taste and usually results in imprecise dosing, makes the treatment journey even more difficult for children and their families.
Such challenges can also make treatment less effective, leading to poor health outcomes and the development of more difficult to treat drug-resistant TB in children.
No child should die of TB, yet for too long, we have not had the medicines or the functioning market needed to mount a sustainable response against childhood TB,” said Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of UNITAID. “UNITAID’s investment in addressing this problem will increase access to correctly dosed, quality-assured, affordable TB medicines for children that will help save lives.”
“If we are to end the TB epidemic by 2030, we must bring children with TB out of the shadows and ensure they are properly diagnosed, treated and cured,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, Director of the Global TB Programme at WHO, speaking at the launch.
The new fixed-dose formulations for children will offer hope for the 400 children who needlessly die of TB each day. Urgent action is needed to ensure these medicines reach those in need and rapidly improve child survival from TB.”
Improved drug formulations
The new TB medicines are fixed dose combinations (FDCs) of the three most commonly used drugs to treat drug-sensitive TB (rifampicin, isoniazid, and pyrazinamide).
These are not new drugs, but rather improved formulations that are dissolvable and flavoured so that they are simple for providers and parents to administer and easy for children to take.
"My three-year old daughter and my newborn son had TB—they were so sick and it was so difficult to give them the medication that I began to lose hope,” said Monique Davids, a mother and care provider from South Africa. “TB is already such a long struggle for families; with these new simpler medicines, at least the treatment doesn’t have to be such an ordeal anymore.”
TB Alliance is working with WHO, UNICEF, Management Sciences for Health and other organisations to encourage uptake in countries with high TB burdens and to reach children affected by TB at all levels or sectors of healthcare. Initial roll-out of the new medicines is expected in early 2016.