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World TB Day Highlights Children

New global research partnership issues report on pediatric drug-resistant TB.

Jake Miller
March 22, 2012

Image courtesy Indus Hospital, Karachi, PakistanThe Sentinel Project on Pediatric Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis, a new global partnership of researchers, caregivers and advocates that aims to develop and deploy evidence-based strategies to prevent child deaths from this treatable disease, released their first joint report on March 20, 2012. The report, Being Brave: Stories of Children with Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis, commemorates World TB Day, March 24.

In October 2011, the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School joined forces with the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (Chennai, India) to convene and host this partnership. Since then, more than 140 individuals in more than 30 countries have begun to collaborate on joint research and advocacy projects.

Mercedes Becerra is one of the founders of the Sentinel Project. An HMS Associate Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine and a senior TB specialist at Partners in Health, Becerra has researched the epidemiology and treatment of TB in Lima, Peru for nearly two decades. Building on a large NIH-funded study there of the epidemiology of drug-resistant TB, and with support from Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Becerra and collaborators in Lima are piloting and evaluating an intervention that aims to improve detection and treatment of children with drug-resistant tuberculosis. This will lay the groundwork for a multi-site prospective study that Becerra plans to pursue with collaborators in the Sentinel Project network in countries including Peru, India, Colombia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Lesotho and South Africa.

This year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the first world TB day and the 140th anniversary of Robert Koch's discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria which causes tuberculosis, World TB Day focuses on the impact of the illness on children.

The collection of stories released today highlights the devastating impact of drug-resistant TB on children. Even in successful cases, diagnosis and treatment of drug-resistant TB in children is lengthy and difficult. Diagnostic tools are often inaccurate and can take months to determine resistance. Without pediatric formulations of most drugs, treatment is difficult to administer.

"Thousands of children around the world die each year from this treatable disease," says Becerra. "Our goal is zero deaths. With coordinated clinical and translational research efforts and strong community partnerships, that goal is well within our reach."

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