Online Guide on children’s medicines; could save 9 mn lives annually

Two UN agencies have released a new online guide on where to procure essential medicines formulated for children, a tool which could potentially prevent nine million child deaths from preventable and treatable causes every year.

“Improved availability and access to safe child-specific medicines is still far from reality for many children in poor countries,” said Hans Hogerzeil, Director of Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies at the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The “one-of-its-kind publication,” he said, “will be useful for organizations and personnel involved in procurement to identify where medicines may be found and what they cost.”

The edition of Sources and Prices of Selected Medicines for Children, released by WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), will help doctors and organizations obtain some of the 240 essential medicines than can save children’s lives. It also offers details on therapeutic food, and vitamin and mineral supplements, to treat major childhood illnesses and diseases.

“While effective medicines exist to fight disease and treat life-threatening conditions like malnutrition, formulations suitable for children are often difficult to source,” said Francisco Blanco, Chief of Medicines & Nutrition of UNICEF’s Supply Division.

“The data in this edition confirms that much more research and effort needs to be made to make medicines for children more available and accessible for those who need them most.”

When children’s medicines are hard to find, parents and medical professionals sometimes use fractions of adult dosage forms or prepare makeshift prescriptions of medicines by crushing tablets or dissolving portions of capsules in water, the agencies noted in a news release.

“This is not always safe or effective as the dose will not be accurate,” they stated, adding that other challenges include the need for more clinical trials and research to be carried out on paediatric medicines.

WHO recommends that wherever possible, medicines for children should be provided as flexible, solid, oral dosage forms that can be administered in a liquid when it is given to the sick child. Liquid formulations are more expensive to purchase compared with dispersible tablets and are also more costly to store, package, and transport safely.

According to the guide, there are several sources for children’s medicines and treatments to address opportunistic infections, palliative care, pain and pneumonia. The availability of paediatric formulations for treatments for malaria, maternal and newborn care, and tuberculosis was fair.

In addition, it notes that the number of sources is limited for the paediatric treatment of diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS, and there is still a serious challenge to obtain child-specific medicines to treat tropical infections endemic in Africa and Asia.

The guide ranks the availability of the identified medicines, and notes that 75 per cent of the formulations included are available for purchase.

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