Improving TB diagnosis and treatment for children and the elderly

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region marks World TB Day (24 March) with a call for improved access to tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment for children and the elderly.

“The TB burden in the Western Pacific Region is still too high,” says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Although the Region is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the TB epidemic by 2015, more than 1.4 million people are diagnosed each year.”

“Many of our elderly, who have the highest rate of TB infection, are not being diagnosed at all. Many of our children are also under-diagnosed. This is unacceptable. We must correct this, and soon,” Dr Shin adds.

TB deaths in the Region decreased significantly between 1990 and 2011, as did the number of people falling sick with the disease. But important challenges remain, including adequately diagnosing and treating vulnerable children and elders as well as preventing the spread of multidrug-resistant TB.

"Governments in the high-burden countries in our Region provide free diagnosis and treatment for TB, but many people are still unaware of this, or are unable to access these services, especially children and the elderly," Dr Shin says.

The reasons why children and the elderly often go undiagnosed are well understood and need to be addressed now, Dr Shin says.

"We know that some elderly people may face logistical challenges, such as limited mobility and access to transportation, and that in the elderly the symptoms of TB can be mistaken for common ailments, such as chronic coughing and general frailty," he explains.

"As for children, current diagnostic tools do not work well with them, but new WHO guidelines provide health workers with necessary guidance. It is of the utmost importance to screen the household contacts of identified TB patients so that children can receive treatment to prevent or cure the disease.

Of the 22 high-burden TB countries that account for more than 80% of the world's cases, four are in the Western Pacific Region: Cambodia, China, the Philippines and Viet Nam. Together, these four account for 93% of the cases in the Region.

WHO urges Member States to spread the word that TB is curable and that diagnosis and treatment are free. It is imperative that attention is paid to those groups that do not always have a voice – to ensure they have full access to health services and can live healthy lives.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Catharina van Weezenbeek
Team Leader, Stop TB and Leprosy Elimination
Tel.: +632 528 9706
E-mail: vanweezenbeekc@wpro.who.int

Ms Marilu Lingad
Assistant, Public Information Office
Tel.: +632 528 9993
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

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