Cambodia has made remarkable progress in the fight against tuberculosis (TB), reducing cases by 25 per cent between 2015 and 2020. Over 45,000 TB cases per year still occur, however, and 22 per cent of the patients are under 14 years old, according to the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC).

According to its July 4 press release, IPC and the Cambodian National Tuberculosis Programme – together with the TB-Speed consortium – are organising a national restitution symposium of the TB-Speed Project results in Phnom Penh on July 5 and 6.

This research project, which aims to reduce TB mortality in children by improving diagnosis, was deployed between 2017 and 2022 in seven limited-resources countries with a high incidence of TB: Cambodia, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.

The TB-Speed Research project is funded by Unitaid – a global health initiative focused on innovations to prevent major diseases in low- and middle-income countries – Initiative-Expertise France and the French infectious disease agency ANRS.

The symposium will bring together project partners, key stakeholders, TB-Speed scientific committee members and representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with the team from the national TB programme.

“Tuberculosis affects approximately 10 million people per year worldwide, including one million children. Less than half of all childhood TB cases are reported to WHO, as the diagnosis of TB in children is difficult,” the press release said.

“Approximately 250,000 children worldwide die from tuberculosis and, in the majority of cases, these deaths occur in children who were not put on treatment because they were not diagnosed,” it added.

Huot Chan Yuda, director of the National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control (CENAT), told The Post that the programmme had focused on doing trial research in a few specific parts of the country. The pilot project tested stool and blood samples of children, which was different to CENAT’s testing, which was carried out on patients’ sputum.

“If the trial is successful, that will expand it further in Cambodia,” he said.

He added that the Covid-19 crisis of the past two years had created a number of problems for TB research, and that cases were rising.

“After the Covid situation improved, we restarted our research activities. We have seen an increase in cases overall. As you know, like Covid-19, TB is a respiratory infection which affects the lungs,” Chan Yuda said.

In 2021, more than 32,000 TB cases were recorded in Cambodia and the first six months of this year saw 15,000 cases.

The release explained that the TB-Speed Project aims to contribute to the reduction of child mortality by increasing the number of children diagnosed with TB and successfully treated, by working on two main research axes: decentralisation of an innovative diagnostic approach of TB at district hospital and primary health centre levels and improvement of diagnosis of the most vulnerable children.

The project conducted five studies among children with suspected TB. It involved strengthening the diagnostic capacity for childhood TB in 16 referral hospitals, 12 district hospitals and 48 primary health centres through staff training, the installation of GeneXpert machines for the molecular diagnosis of TB, the deployment of equipment and materials for the collection of alternative specimens to sputum, such as nasopharyngeal aspirates and stool specimens, the digitisation of X-ray imaging at hospital level, and the implementation of quality control systems, according to the press release.