By Gift Briton

Proactive steps needed in addressing major diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV in children, stakeholders say during the commemoration of the Day of the African Child in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Day of the African Child is commemorated every June 16 to celebrate the children of Africa and inspire actions towards addressing their everyday challenges. It is also marked in memory of the children who died during the June 16, 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa.

The Nairobi celebration on June 15, highlighted the centrality of the education sector in ensuring that children have the necessary support and resources to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The Ministry of Education was encouraged to spearhead efforts to prevent transmission of major diseases among children by prioritizing their health, including improving school infrastructure, implementing preventive measures, and promoting awareness and a stigma-free environment where all children can thrive and reach their fullest potential.

In Kenya, the fight against HIV and TB in children remains a critical challenge. Over 67,000 children in Kenya are currently living with HIV, with four in ten new HIV infections happening among adolescents and young people. Moreover, around 12% of total TB cases in the country are in children below 15 years.

“Prevention of TB and HIV lies at the heart of our response. By prioritizing comprehensive strategies that encompass education, access to quality healthcare services and community engagement, we can stem the tide of new infections and ensure early detection and treatment for those affected. We need to address the pervasive stigma that continues to shroud HIV and TB, hindering efforts to reach those in need. By fostering an environment of empathy, understanding and support, we can empower those affected to seek care and support without fear of judgement,” said Dr Caren Mburu, Paediatrician and Senior Technical Advisor for Adolescent and Paediatric Services at Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation(EGPAF) Kenya.

Dr Mburu Added: “As we gather today, let us reflect on the collective responsibility we hold in ensuring the health, well-being and prosperity of our children. As leaders, we are entrusted with a sacred duty to protect and nurture our children regardless of our political or religious affiliations.”

Eveline Kibuchi, Chief National Coordinator for Stop TB Partnership Kenya, underscored the need to sensitize teachers to recognize health concerns in students and refer them for early treatment. She also encouraged the Ministry of Health to improve school infrastructure to ensure that classrooms and proper ventilation and implement periodic screening for TB in schools as a preventive measure to identify cases on time.

“We need to bring on board the Ministry of Education to take responsibility in addressing TB. There is a need for congestion in learning institutions because congestion is one of the breeding grounds for TB. Unfortunately, we are removing the school feeding programme that would have been a very important factor in strengthening the immunity of children because some children do not get enough food at home. All these will only happen if we give adequate allocation to health. Any gap in the funding for health means the likelihood of diseases going unaddressed,” noted Kibuchi.

The Day of the African Child celebration highlighted the significance of a multisectoral approach in addressing the root causes of HIV and TB transmission in children. Speakers emphasized the need for collaborative and coordinated efforts to safeguard the health and future of African children.

“We are committed to working closely with all stakeholders towards strengthening child health and development by offering treatment for TB, HIV and other diseases. This will only be achieved through collaborative efforts by strengthening primary healthcare to enable our children to access essential health services,” noted Millicent Kamau from the Center for Health Solutions (CHS).