Tuberculosis In Children: WHO Brings Down Treatment Duration From 6 To 4 Months

A lower treatment duration significantly lowers the burden on families and healthcare systems around the world.

Treatment of tuberculosis in children is painstakingly long and the prescribed duration till now was 6 months. But things are about to change.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease and even children can get it if they are exposed to the diseases-causing bacterium. And, like in adults, the treatment duration of TB in children is a long one. In fact, to be precise, the duration of treatment is 6 months. But if a child is infected with HIV, then the treatment duration is 9 months. Seeking to make things easy, a new research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, explored the efficacy of TB treatment in children. After seeing the results of this study, the World Health Organization has also changed its global guidelines for managing the disease.

Shorter treatment duration for minimal TB

Researchers from the University College London found that the treatment duration for the majority of children with drug sensitive tuberculosis can be shortened from six to four months. The new research has found that, instead of six months, treatment of four months using the same standard medicines was just as beneficial for children with minimal TB. This significantly lowers the burden on families and healthcare systems around the world. Researchers say that it is true that a majority of children, almost a quarter, with TB die. But a majority of these deaths, almost 90 per cent, are the result of late diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis and timely treatment can save a lot of lives.

What is minimal TB?

Minimal tuberculosis is non-severe lung or lymph gland TB. Here, the TB bacteria cannot easily be found in the sputum through smear microscopy. According to available data, In 2020, around 1.1 million children fell ill with TB globally, and unlike adult patients, most of them had a non-severe form of the disease. But their treatment length has always been six months of a combination of daily medicines. Children often have to stay home from school during treatment duration and this increases the burden on caregivers.

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How will shorter treatment duration help?

A shorter treatment duration means money saved.

  • Spending less time on treatment means fewer clinic visits.
  • It will be easier to complete the full course of medicine.
  • Money saved can be spent on improving access to screening and diagnostic tests for the disease.

Changed WHO treatment guidelines

After seeing the evidence presented by the researchers, the World Health Organisation Guidelines Development Group, recommended in August 2021 that in children and adolescents with non-severe, presumed drug susceptible TB, a four-month regimen should be used rather than the standard six-month regimen. Important considerations about how to determine eligibility for the shorter treatment regimen will be described in WHO's full consolidated guidelines coming out this month in the operational handbook.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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