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Jakarta Post

Neglect of child TB human rights scandal: Expert

  • Rita Widiadana

    The Jakarta Post

Denpasar, Bali   /   Wed, May 23, 2018   /   01:25 pm
Neglect of child TB human rights scandal: Expert International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease executive director José Luis Castro speaks in an event. (Courtesy of the Union/File)

Tuberculosis (TB) afflicts one million children per year, killing nearly one in four. Children who receive treatment almost always recover. However, 90 percent of children who become sick with TB today are left untreated, according to a new report by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

“This is a human rights and child rights scandal because TB is preventable, treatable, curable,” The Union executive director José Luis Castro said in an exclusive email interview with The Jakarta Post.

The report was presented at the 71st World Health Assembly on Medicine and Vaccine Shortage in Geneva on May 23, 2018.

Castro further said the continuing medical neglect of child TB, resulting in millions of avoidable deaths, constituted a human rights violation by any reasonable measure.

“The right to equal access to healthcare is enshrined in international human rights agreements, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Children with TB die from the disease at disproportionate rates compared with adults, representing 10 percent of TB incidence but 16 percent of TB deaths globally.

The burden of child TB is highest in low- and middle-income countries, where children may represent over a fifth of all cases.

“We are dealing with an airborne disease that is becoming increasingly resistant to the few antibiotics we have to treat it, and children are bearing some of the worst impacts. Heads of state are the only leaders with the power and influence to mobilize resources to end the epidemic. They must act.”

In Indonesia (the nation with the second-highest TB rate), there were 1.02 million people with TB including children (about 9.4 percent), according to a WHO TB report in 2017, with around 270 people dying of TB every day. But data from the Health Ministry stated there were only around 450,000 people with TB in the country in 2017.

Most TB-related child deaths occur in young children who have not been diagnosed or treated, representing a missed opportunity for prevention.

Children are particularly vulnerable to TB. Children with TB are at high risk of developing severe forms of the disease and at high risk of dying - especially infants and children under five years of age. Furthermore, strong evidence of the effectiveness of TB prevention and treatment in children has been available for decades. 

“One major reason for this long-standing neglect is that children with TB, especially young children, are much less likely to be contagious than adolescents or adults with the disease,” Castro explained.

The principal aim of this report is to ensure that commitments are made to address child TB at the UN High Level Meeting on TB in New York, September 2018 -- followed by action. 

“The public health sector cannot end the TB epidemic alone, because TB is driven by economic and demographic factors as much as it is driven by health factors,” said Castro. (ebf)