The Ministry of Health on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 announced the launch of appropriately dosed, child-friendly tuberculosis (TB) medicines, making Kenya the first country in the world to roll out these products nationally. The launch organised under the theme ‘A TB Free Generation’ attracted health practioners and TB control partners including County Executives Committees (CEC) for Health from various counties in the country.Theimproved medicines are easier for caregivers to give and for children to take, and are expected to help improve treatment and child survival from TB.
“Kenya is playing a leading role in the fight against childhood TB by being the first in the world to introduce the improved child-friendly TBmedicines,” re-affirmed Dr Jackson Kioko, Director Medical Services. Speaking during the launch on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Dr Cleopa Mailu, Dr. Kioko said that Kenya was honored to celebrate what it has advocated for the last four years – having friendly TB medicines for children.“With these appropriate treatments, Kenya is expected tomake rapid progress in finding and treating children with TB to achieve a TB free generation.”
Previously, care givers had to cut or crush multiple, bitter-tasting pills in an attempt to achieve the right doses for children. This made the six-month treatment journey difficult for children and their families, contributing to treatment failure and death from the disease.
Tuberculosis remains a major disease killer of children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 1million children suffer from TB each yearand 140,000 children die of this preventable, treatable and curable disease. In 2015, Kenya reported nearly 7,000 cases of TB in infants and children, with those under the age of five at the greatest risk of having severe forms of TB and dying from the disease. “There is a higher risk and more rapid progression to active TB among children, thus leading to higher mortality,” said Dr Joseph Sitienei, Head of Strategic Health Programs at the Ministry of Health. “There exists a gap in case detection among children, with 29% of children with TB being missed annually,” he added. He further noted that increased use of the Gene Xpert machine will enhance case detection and identification of Rifampicin resistance among children.
The treatment being introduced is the first to meet WHO guidelines for childhood TB treatment. They are not new drugs but improved formulations that come in the correct doses, require fewer pills, are flavoured and dissolve in water. The development of the medicines was over seen by TB Alliance, an international not-for- profit organization, and was funded by UNITAID and other partners. “These new treatments will not have an impact until they reach the children that need them,” said Dr. Cherise Scott, Director of Pediatric Programs for TB Alliance. She also reaffirmed that TB Alliance is proud to partner with the Government of Kenya, the first of many countries, as they work to translate the potential of these medicines into lives saved.”
Mr. Robert Matiru, Director of Operations at UNITAID emphasized that, “No child should die of TB, yet for too long, we have not had the medicines to mount a sustainable response against childhood TB. UNITAID’s investment in addressing this problem aims to help in equipping countries, health care workers, and families with the tools they need to rise to the challenge.”
Starting October 1, 2016, all children in Kenya initiated on TB treatment will be given the improved formulation. “Childhood TB is a problem that can be solved when we choose to act, ”said Dr. Masini, Head of Kenya’s National Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Lung Disease Program. This calls for active diagnosis and case finding to ensure that all children are treated. He further noted that Children often get TB from infected persons in their environment. “One single adult TB case presents the possibility of spreading TB infection to 60 children,” he emphasized. This can be at home, at school or in any other place where children spend their time.
Attending the launch too was Hon Stephen Mule, the chairman of the Parliamentarians TB Caucus in Africa who noted that there is need for the Ministry through the TB Program to increase the capacity to diagnose TB at the earliest date possible, and at the lowest level of the health sector in Kenya.
The take home message was that children should be presented to the nearest health facility to be tested for TB if they have a cough, fever, night sweats, reduced playfulness, or if they fail to gain weight. Further, it was made clear that if any member of the household is diagnosed with TB, all other household members should be tested for TB, especially children. TB testing and treatment is free at all public health facilities in Kenya.