More than 30,000 children develop tuberculosis (TB) each year in South Africa. For these children, cure comes in the form of six months of daily, bitter pills made for adults more than twice their size.
Today, TB research non-profit the TB Alliance has announced a better cure in on the way for kids as the organisation launches new combination TB treatment for kids.
Monique Davids’ husband, three-year-old daughter and two-month-old son developed TB simultaneously.
After Jaden was hospitalised at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Davids spent her days shuttling between the hospital and home – trying to get two very sick but very resistant young children to take their treatment.
For Davids, it meant taking up to seven adult-sized tablets and crushing them into powder she mixed with everything from formula to juice in an effort to get her children to take the life-saving treatment.
When her oldest child refused to take the treatment, she tired bribes before resorting to fear.
“I told her that if she didn’t take the treatment, the police would come from her,” Davids said. “It was very traumatic for me because I’d never lied to her before.”
According to Davids, many parents in her community give up the hard fight to get medicine down kids’ throat with deadly results.
Parents’ fights may get a little easier
On the 2nd of December, the TB Alliance has announced the creation of the world’s first combination TB treatments made especially for children and that adhere to international guidelines.
Funded by the medicine and diagnostic funder UNITAID, one new formulation combines the most commonly used TB drugs, rifampicin and isoniazid. A second new combination drug pairs the two staple TB drugs with a third TB drug, pyrazinamide.
At just about R220 per six-month course, the new formulations are dissolvable in water and come in strawberry or raspberry flavours. They also ensure that children will receive the proper drug doses – something that is not guaranteed when parents are forced to crush adult tablets into kid-sized powder.
While combination paediatric TB therapy exists, the new formulations are the first to adhere to international World Health Organisation recommended doses.
According to TB Alliance President and CEO Mel Spigelman, the new paediatric TB formulations, were developed in less than three years and for less money that was originally envisioned.
South Africa to license the drugs soon
Speaking at the World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town, he added that the alliance will register and license the combination drugs for use in South Africa soon.
“Now that we have the drugs, the real work starts and that is to make sure that these drugs are adopted and actually accessible for the patients and families who need them,” he said.
“That is not an insignificant task,” added Spigelman alluding to the lack of paediatric TB tests needed to diagnose childhood TB.
TB Alliance researchers are also currently working on a kid-friendly version of the TB drug isoniazid, which can also be used to prevent the development of active TB as well as a paediatric formulation of the drug bedaquiline.
The first new drug in about 50 years, bedaquiline had been rolled out to about 150 patients with extensively drug-resistant TB in South Africa as of June.
The country is set to spend about R130million to roll out bedaquiline to at least 9,000 patients over the next three years, according to Dr Norbert Ndjeka, head of the Department of Health’s division on HIV, TB and drug-resistant TB.