From the Field

5 facts about tuberculosis (TB) in children

Two young siblings wait, seated on blue plastic chairs, eyes meeting the camera.

Tuberculosis (TB), a disease eradicated decades ago in the U.S., remains a pressing global health threat, placing a significant burden on children. Despite being preventable and treatable, TB claims the lives of over 600 children under 15 every day. The World Health Organization reported an approximate 10.6 million global TB cases in 2022, 1.3 million of those being children, emphasizing the widespread impact of this airborne infectious disease across all countries and age groups.

Every year on March 24, we observe World Tuberculosis Day, commemorating Dr. Robert Koch’s 1882 discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

Understanding TB is crucial, especially in children, where the disease develops rapidly. Here are five key facts:

  1. Global impact: Children account for 11% of all TB cases, with 1.1 million new cases each year. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) poses a substantial threat to public health security. In 2022, only about 2 in 5 people with MDR-TB accessed intensive treatment.
  2. Vulnerability of younger children: Children under 5 are particularly at risk, facing rapid disease progression.
  3. Challenges in diagnosis: Children’s symptoms can be non-specific, making diagnosis difficult. Conventional diagnostic tools may not be as effective in detecting pathogens in their lungs.
  4. Unique immune challenges: Children are more likely than adults to develop extra-pulmonary TB, which is TB that affects organs other than the lungs.
  5. Treatment and prevention: TB in children is both preventable and treatable — and children respond well to prescribed therapies.
A girl smiles by a water tank as a man behind her places a hand on the knob and the other on her shoulder. A boy joins them.
Samson and his children, Kemo and Sylvia, wash their hands at the water source near World Vision’s office in Daru Island. This water, vital for drinking and handwashing, plays a crucial role in supporting TB patients like Samson’s family, who diligently follows their prescribed medications at the clinic supported by World Vision and partners. Samson expressed heartfelt gratitude for World Vision’s support. “In Daru we are blessed to have World Vision. They help the hospitals, us TB patients, and my family too especially with daily meals, food vouchers and counseling,” says Samson. (© 2023 World Vision/photo by Rozalia Dala Boyd)

Despite challenges, World Vision aims to improve prevention, early detection, and proper treatment through our Global Fund programs while strengthening healthcare systems. In 2022, we supported over 117,500 people through our TB programs in Somalia, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Senegal, Thailand, India, and Papua New Guinea.

Chris Huber of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.


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