WHO releases new guidance on treating drug-resistant tuberculosis in children and adolescents

WHO

WHO/Europe has released an expert opinion on managing drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in children and adolescents, supported by a commentary in the Lancet.

DR-TB is particularly dangerous, and many young people suffering with the disease are undiagnosed. It is estimated that in the WHO European Region, 2000 children under the age of 15 with TB remain undiagnosed each year, a figure that is believed to be higher in the 15–19 years age group.

Furthermore, of those infected, 14% have especially dangerous and hard-to-treat forms of TB. This raises the risk that those who are undiagnosed with DR-TB will unknowingly spread the disease to increased numbers of people.

The guidance is evidence-based and provides updates on recent scientific evidence, as well as region-specific clinical and public health recommendations on tackling DR-TB in children and adolescents.

Commenting, Dr Masoud Dara, Coordinator, Communicable Diseases, Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases, WHO/Europe, said: “In public health terms, this is an important step towards addressing a future reservoir of DR-TB that could prolong the epidemic. From a human perspective, these are children robbed of significant parts of their childhood by a severe disease that puts their lives at risk and also often causes them to be separated from their families. For their sake, bold and sustained action is required”.

The latest guidance from WHO/Europe recommends using the TB drug bedaquiline if necessary to help patients with DR-TB, including children aged 6 years and older; for children of 3 years and older it recommends delamanid, another recently developed TB drug.

DR-TB is a matter for concern, but this guidance gives hope that many young people suffering with the disease can be cured. It will act as a cornerstone of WHO/Europe’s efforts to end TB for everyone including children and adolescents.

At the age of 16, Arman from Armenia was diagnosed with a drug-resistant form of TB. However, doctors were able to identify the drugs that would work and prescribed them alongside bedaquiline. While the first stage of his treatment was conducted in hospital, after a few months he was no longer infectious, and was able to return home and finish his treatment. This allowed him to get back to his normal life.

You can watch Arman’s story here.