More than one million children from 93 countries will now benefit from child friendly tuberculosis (TB) medicines that were first introduced in Kenya in 2016.
The drug, which is easier for caregivers to administer and for children to take, has been ordered by 93 countries which carry 75 percent of the estimated childhood TB burden globally, according to a nonprofit organisation the TB Alliance.
The drug has improved the six-month treatment journey which was difficult for children and their families, contributing to difficulties with adherence, treatment failure and death from the disease.
Until this new formulation, the treatment regime for children comprised numerous pills of many formulations which proved complex to use for both the healthcare workers and caregivers.
“Previously, caregivers had to cut or crush multiple, bitter-tasting adult pills or combine incorrectly dosed formulations in an effort to achieve the appropriate doses for children,” the TB Alliance said in a statement.
The drug was the first to meet World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for childhood TB treatment. While they are not new drugs, they are improved formulations coming in direct doses, require fewer pills, are flavoured and dissolve in water.
The development of the improved child-friendly treatment took three years. It was funded by UNITAID, a global health initiative, which gave the TB Alliance a grant of $16 million or Sh1.6 billion.
Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs. It is preventable and curable, but the World Health Organization says at least one million children develop TB each year and about 234,000 children die from the disease.
While the drug has made improved treatment of TB among children in Kenya, the biggest challenge in terms of childhood TB is under-diagnosis.
According to the 2017 TB Prevalence survey in Kenya, out of the possible 22,000 paediatric TB cases only 7,714 were diagnosed, representing 35 per cent of all cases. Out of the detected paediatric cases, 161 children succumbed to the infectious disease.
The survey said that use of microscopy for diagnosis, which is a common method of running TB test in Kenya, misses more than 50 per cent of the cases. Gene X-pert, an innovative method forTB diagnosis is able to detect 78 per cent of cases making it a more reliable and efficient than microscopy. However, the method also presented 22 per cent diagnostics gap. According to the survey, 85,188 overall cases of TB were diagnosed in Kenya during the year.
Detecting TB in children is hard as it presents itself with cough, fever, failure to gain weight or weight loss and reduced playfulness, mimicking common childhood diseases and making it almost impossible to suspect without running recommended tests.