TB treatment for children is fundamentally the same as for adults, with a combination of TB drugs needing to be taken for a number of months. TB treatment for children consists of an intensive phase followed by a continuation phase. The purpose of the intensive phase is to rapidly eliminate the majority of the TB bacteria. This phase uses a greater number of TB drugs than the continuation phase whose aim is to eradicate any remaining dormant bacteria.
When started promptly the outcome of TB treatment in children is generally good. This applies even in those children that are very young and who have compromised immune systems.
Achieving successful TB treatment for children
Achieving successful treatment of TB in children depends on a number of different factors including:1“Out of the Dark: Meeting the Needs of Children with Tuberculosis”, MSF Access to Essential Medicines October 2011 www.msfaccess.org/
- The child must be promptly diagnosed
- TB treatment must be started promptly
- The correct TB drugs must be provided
- The dosage of the TB drugs must be adjusted according to the child’s weight
- Support must be provided to ensure that the TB drugs are taken correctly
- There must be a continuous supply of quality assured TB drugs.
TB treatment for a child must always be carried out under the supervision of an experienced doctor. The World Health Organisation treatment guidelines and any National Treatment Program guidelines must always be followed.2"Best practices in child and adolescent tuberculosis", Geneva, World Health Organisation, 2018, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/274373/9789241514651-eng.pdf
Child friendly formulations of TB drugs & FDCs
Young children who are unable, or unwilling to swallow large number of tablets each day need child friendly formulations to treat their TB. Ideally these should be in solid fixed dose combination (FDC) forms that are then dispersible in liquids, and can easily provide for dosing across different weight groups.
FDCs are when several drugs are combined together with a specific dosage of each drug included in one tablet. A major advantage of FDCs is that they improve patient adherence as fewer tablets need to be taken and a single drug cannot be taken on its own. At the same time there appears to be no loss of effectiveness. Although there is still some discussion about the benefit of FDCs for the treatment of TB in adults, there would appear to be little dispute about the benefit of FDCs for the treatment of TB in children.
New FDCs for TB treatment for children
In 2015 the TB Alliance announced that in early 2016 some new TB drugs for children would be available. 3“Child friendly TB drugs on the way”, www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/09/01/child-friendly-tb-drugs-way
“Children with the disease will no longer have to take crushed tablets intended for adult sufferers, meaning that they will get the proper dosage”.
This was further discussed at the annual World Conference on Lung Health in December 2015, where it was said that:4“New Tuberculosis Treatment Aimed at Children”, www.voanews.com
“For the first time, we have appropriate treatment for the million children who have tuberculosis, with a formulation of drug that is easy for kids to take, that tastes good and that will hopefully make the disease much easier to treat”.
Countries can now access the new formulations through the Global Drug Facility.5“New fixed-dose combinations for the treatment of TB in children Factsheet”, www.tballiance.org
Progress on scale-up of new Childhood TB Medicines
More than one million courses of treatment have already been ordered. Ninety three countries have started to use the improved medicines. These countries account for three quarters of the global pediatric TB burden.6"Child-friendly medicines", TBAlliance, https://www.tballiance.org/child-friendly-medicines
But with TB in children resulting in one million children becoming ill with TB each year, and therefore one million courses of TB treatment being needed each year, there is still some way to go before all children who need it will be receiving the improved medicine.
This page was last updated in January 2020.
Author Annabel Kanabus
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