A Partnership to End Childhood TB

Ian MatthewsNews

By Dr. Christopher Kalila, Zambia MP – Global TB Caucus Co-Chair for Africa, National Chair of the Zambia National Caucus

Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, and one of the top 10 causes of death in children globally. In 2018, a total of 1.12 million children contracted TB and 205,000 died. Of 1.3 million children needing TB preventive therapy, only 27.5% had access. Additionally, the threat brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak has seen the rapid erosion of crucial health programs – including TB. 

Political leadership has a critical role in the childhood TB response by ensuring effective policies for TB response at national, regional and global levels and much needed increases in financial resources. The Global TB Caucus (GTBC), a global network of Parliamentarians advancing the TB response, partnered with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) to enhance political leadership in the TB response in Africa. 

EGPAF has been implementing pediatric TB programs in 12 countries in Africa under the Unitaid-funded Catalyzing Pediatric TB Innovations (CaP-TB) project, a five-year project to increase pediatric TB case detection, treatment and preventive therapy. Notable gains have been catalyzed by the project, such as inclusion of key pediatric TB interventions in National TB Strategic Plans and Global Fund applications. EGPAF recently developed a pediatric TB budgeting tool identifying existing gaps and solutions that parliamentarians can now use in their advocacy.

In addressing gaps in pediatric TB, many countries have established policies and guidelines on management of TB specifically in children, and there has been the introduction of child-specific treatments and preventive therapy for children that countries like Zimbabwe have already started implementing.

Innovation is critical in closing the gap in TB diagnosis and treatment. If countries applied the same aggressive approach to TB as with COVID-19, there would be no question of reaching the end TB targets. Additional resources for TB research and development, and integration and stronger linkages of childhood TB to other childhood health programs are crucial to eradicate this disease that has been with us for centuries. 

Communities play a crucial role in the success of the TB response. Community leadership, when empowered with strong TB knowledge, can decrease the painful stigma and discrimination around the disease that further alienates patients from their communities. We – Members of Parliament – must also use our influence to help break down these barriers in our constituencies and lay the foundation for environments where patients are not afraid to seek adequate medical, psychosocial and economic services and support.

As policymakers, we must ensure that resources for TB are equitably allocated in our health budgets, particularly for domestic financing where we have a voice in negotiations in parliament. In over 15 active national caucuses in Africa, Caucus members collaborate with civil society in budget monitoring, advocacy and sustained political pressure on our governments for action and delivery on commitments to the TB response. Through unified multilateral efforts, countries like Kenya have successfully advocated for TB budget increases. 

We recently marked the second anniversary of the first ever United Nations High Level Meeting on TB where heads of State committed to targets for 2022 to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 targets and the End TB 2035 targets. If we are to meet these targets and ensure that 3.5 million children with TB have access to essential care needs, governments must prioritize health financing, including exploring multi-sectoral engagement within and outside their countries. 

It is unacceptable for us to allow more children to lose their lives and suffer needlessly from a preventable and curable disease. Children are our future, and all of us, from all sectors, all need to do our part to ensure that our children not only survive, but that they thrive.

Hon. Chris Kalila is a Member of Parliament of Zambia and Co-Chair of the Africa Region of the Global TB Caucus. He is a medical doctor, and is currently the Chair of the Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services and a Member of the Committee on Cabinet Affairs.

Ian MatthewsA Partnership to End Childhood TB