June marked International Children’s Month – a time to both celebrate the rights and dreams of children all over the world as well as to address challenges that can prevent children from surviving and thriving.
In South Africa, tuberculosis (TB) in children remains one of these challenges and is among the top five causes of death in children under 15. In 2011, there were 47,571 confirmed cases of TB among children – approximately 15-20% of the total number of cases in South Africa. Experts agree that the reported number of childhood TB cases likely underestimates the actual burden of TB in children. Identifying and diagnosing TB and MDR TB in children remains difficult, as the disease may present non-specific symptoms among children. Furthermore, routine diagnostic tests for TB are not child friendly, as it is difficult to collect sputum specimens from infants and young children. Laboratory tests used to find TB in sputum are less likely to have a positive result in children (as children are more likely to have TB disease caused by a smaller number of bacteria).