The often ignored but very serious subject of paediatric tuberculosis (TB) will be highlighted on SABC3’s award-winning magazine show, Special Assignment, on Thursday 22 March at 9pm. Titled No-one Will Help Them, the programme is produced by Fathima Simjee of Health-e News Service.
Shocking statistics reveal that over 200 children under the age of five die in South Africa every day. While malnutrition, HIV/Aids, diarrhea and pneumonia are cited as major childhood killers, TB rarely gets a mention. Because children, unlike adults, rarely transmit the disease, public health programmes typically under-diagnose, under-treat, or omit children with TB altogether, making it one of the most neglected, yet deadly, childhood diseases.
TB in children presents differently to adults, and their symptoms can often be confused with other common childhood diseases. Insufficient data and medical research has left doctors with outdated methods of diagnosis and treatment, unsuited to children’s needs. It makes dealing with the disease difficult and painful, especially for young children and babies.
Compounding this is the growing presence of drug resistant TB amongst children, where more and more patients are being infected with strains of bacteria that do not respond to the normal TB treatment. But, the medication against drug resistant TB is not formulated for children, so doctors are forced to use the same drugs prescribed to adults, and estimate an appropriate smaller dose. This treatment is long and incredibly toxic, and can cause severe side effects, like permanent deafness, loss of eyesight and kidney damage.
Many children who have drug resistant TB are isolated in hospitals for the duration of their treatment, which can be as long as 18 months. They are taken from their families and homes, forced to wear masks and only allowed limited physical contact with others. It is a traumatic experience for any child.