Childhood Tuberculosis Estimates Are Too Low

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School estimate the number of childhood tuberculosis cases at 1 million annually

Approximately one million children suffer from childhood tuberculosis (TB) annually, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS). That is twice the number that was previously estimated and three times the number of diagnoses that occur every year.

The researchers also estimated that approximately 32,000 children suffer from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) annually. These findings are published in the March 23 issue of The Lancet.

“Despite children comprising approximately one quarter of the world’s population, there have been no previous estimates of how many suffer from MDR-TB disease,” says Dr. Ted Cohen, an HMS associate professor an the co-author of the study. “Our estimate of the total number of new cases of childhood TB is twice that estimated by the WHO in 2011 and three times the number of child TB cases notified globally each year.”

According to the study:

In order to obtain these estimates the researchers used several sources of publicly available data and devised a new method to correct for the chronic under-diagnosis that occurs in children, using conventional TB tests which were designed for and work best on adults. The researchers used two models to estimate both the regional and global annual incidence of MDR-TB in children. Their findings indicate that around 1,000,000 children developed TB disease in 2010 and of those, 32,000 had MDR-TB.

Helen Jenkins, an HMS instructor says that the findings underscore the urgent need for expanded investment in the global response to TB and MDR-TB in children. “Our findings demonstrate that there is a need for improved methods for collecting data on childhood TB,” she says. “A good starting place would be improved diagnostic methods for children and more systematic collection of information on how many children are suffering with this disease.”