TB in South African children underrated, early diagnosis very elusive: Doctors

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Western Cape Premier Alan Winde says efforts are under way to reduce TB infections in children in the province.

Winde visited the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town as part of a TB awareness campaign.

Children under the age of 15 in South Africa account for about 11% of all TB cases, which is around 40 000 cases.

Winde, who chairs the AIDS and TB Council in the province, says they have plans to eradicate TB, taking lessons on how the country has dealt with COVID-19. He says the visit to the hospital was a learning curve on experiences by professionals on how the disease can be beaten.

He says he understands that eradicating TB in the same way as other highly infectious diseases like polio or measles, might be more challenging as TB needs improvement in socio-economic conditions, in addition to medical interventions.

Doctors say TB in children is very under-rated and early diagnosis remains elusive. They say South Africa is in the list of five countries in the world with the highest numbers of TB prevalence in children.

Winde says solutions to eradicate the disease can be achieved through cooperation between government and the private sector.

“I’m applying the last year to learn about TB, how to eradicate TB, we got funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have put R80 million towards this project. I think they have been involved for quite a long time in various aspects but what really excited me when getting this latest funding, is that we always heard of Bill Gates being in support of eradicating the world of polio, so if we can get support now trying to eradicate the world from TB, let’s set ourselves on that path,” says Winde.

Head of Paediatric Infections at the Red Cross, Professor Brian Eley says an average of 2 500 TB cases are reported in the Cape Town area per annum. He says poverty, poor home circumstances and malnutrition are some of the aggravating factors.

Eley says, “It would be pneumonia or what we referred to as a chronic form of pneumonia, so the children will present with chronic coughing, wasting, loss of weight, sweating at night, very similar features to adults but then there’s a sizeable subset of children who will present with acute pneumonia. They will present with shortness of breath, fever, cough and on x-ray found evidence of tuberculosis.”