AU, WHO decry low investment, funding for TB control in Africa
• Say continent needs N910b yearly for prevention, and treatment to meet 2030 target
African Union (AU) and World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said investment and funding for tuberculosis control in Africa remain low, jeopardising efforts to meet the global target of ending the disease by 2030.
The AU and WHO, on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lomé, Togo, said the African region requires at least $1.3 billion (N910 billion) for tuberculosis prevention and treatment every year, yet countries contribute 22 per cent of the needed budget, while external funding accounts for 34 per cent. The rest of the budget remains unfunded.
They, however, called for immediate and comprehensive measures to end the significant toll of tuberculosis among children in Africa.
The appeal was made jointly with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and the Stop TB Partnership.
The partners called on African countries to prioritise funding for tuberculosis prevention and control and allocate sufficient financial, technical and human resources to accelerate progress towards ending the disease in children and adolescents.
The AU and WHO, in a joint statement by WHO AFRO, said the African region is home to 17 of the 30 countries with the highest tuberculosis burden globally and accounts for around 322,000 children and young adolescents (aged 0 to 15 years) or a third of tuberculosis cases among those under 15 years of age worldwide.
Of particular concern is that two-thirds of children in the region are unreported or undiagnosed for the disease, leading to an increased risk of rapid disease progression and mortality, especially in younger children. Among children under five, just around a third (32 per cent) are diagnosed – the smallest proportion globally.
According to the statement, the low detection of tuberculosis arises from challenges in specimen collection as well as bacteriological confirmation of the disease among children who can display non-specific clinical symptoms that overlap those of other common childhood diseases.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The epidemic of tuberculosis among children in Africa has been occurring in the shadows and has until now been largely ignored. We hope this call will galvanise action and ensure no child in Africa is lost to a disease, which in many parts of the world is now history.
“Strong political leadership, accountability, financial support and global solidarity are critically needed to increase access to effective diagnostics, medications, vaccines and other tools for tuberculosis control.”
The AU, WHO, EGPAF and Stop TB Partnership also called for swift measures to accelerate recovery from the impact of COVID-19 and urged countries to facilitate the scale-up of child-friendly tuberculosis diagnosis, treatment and care.
Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership, Dr. Lucica Ditiu, said: “One child dies of tuberculosis somewhere in the world every two minutes, even though tuberculosis is curable and preventable. Children with tuberculosis almost never spread the disease and are always infected by an adult. So, their suffering is a metric of our failures to diagnose and treat tuberculosis in children.
“We call on all our partners to be committed, united and learn from our achievements and mistakes to ensure that an airborne disease hundreds of years old, like TB, is not a threat for the generations to come.”