EGPAF Launches Unitaid CaP TB Project in Malawi
Meghan Quinn, EGPAF
On March 22, as prelude to World Tuberculosis Day (on March 24), the Malawi Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) launched a new initiative designed to identify and treat tuberculosis in children. Catalyzing Pediatric Tuberculosis Innovation (CaP TB) is a Unitaid-funded project that will be implemented in 40 high TB burden facilities in seven districts in Malawi. In Malawi, TB is the second leading cause of death, following AIDS.
“TB is a huge problem. It is even worse in children as it is often missed due to non-specific symptoms and lack of a sensitive and child-friendly diagnostic test.” explained Dr. Dan Namarika, Secretary for Health and Populations and a guest of honor at the launch event. “You need to be innovative in terms of diagnostic facilities to make sure that you are able to diagnose TB in children. And that is what EGPAF is bringing through the Unitaid CaP TB project.”
Deswell Kalolo Phiri, the father of an adolescent TB survivor, shared moving testimony about his family’s experience.
“My child was born HIV-positive,” said Phiri. “He goes to an EGPAF-supported Teen Club in Mikundi in Mchinji District. Last year he got very sick despite taking his medication under my supervision. We took him to various health facilities but they couldn’t detect the TB infection until an EGPAF official, Dr. Wamaka Kaminyoge, advised me to seek medical attention at Mchinji District Hospital where TB was later diagnosed.
“Now my son has completed his TB medications and is doing fine. He could have been here himself, but he is writing exams currently,” Phiri explained.
EGPAF Country Director Veena Sampathkumar highlighted that the CaP TB project supports the MOH to assess the feasibility and plan for scale up of new drugs for TB prevention and treatment and improved diagnostics for pediatric TB to ensure that children in Malawi have better health outcomes.
“All it takes is political will, commitment, and resources to make sure that we integrate available diagnostics, prevention, and treatment options into the public health system. For us, we see it as catalytic,” said Sampathkumar.
“It also resonates closely with our mission at EGPAF. Our founder was diagnosed with HIV back in the 1980s when there was no support for her and her children. We are here to ensure that we advocate and support the Ministry of Health to deliver services, so all children live free from AIDS and TB,” she explained.
Sampathkumar acknowledged the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS for launching the Free to Shine Campaign, which is aimed at eliminating pediatric HIV, malaria, and TB by 2030.
Of the 40 stakeholders who attended the CaP TB launch, distinguished officials included Director of Preventive Health Services Dr. Storn Kabuluzi and National Tuberculosis Control Program Manager Dr. James Mpunga from the Ministry of Health. The launch was also attended by representatives from the World Health Organization, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other partners such as Lighthouse, Baylor, mother2mothers, Jhpiego, Challenge TB, Malawi AIDS Counselling and Resource Organisation, and the National Association for People living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi. UNAIDS Country Representative Therese Poirier and the National AIDS Commission Biomedical Advisor and Head of Policy Support were also present to endorse and support the critical need to address HIV and TB co-infection and the special focus on children.