UN agency unveils two web projects to fight disease and track medical progress

UN agency unveils two web projects to fight disease and track medical progress

Two web projects backed by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) were launched today as part of global efforts to fight infectious diseases afflicting the developing world and to track recent progress made in the field of medicine.

The new Drug Target Prioritization Database will allow researchers from all over the world to cull their knowledge in finding cures to diseases – including malaria, tuberculosis, African sleeping sickness and worm infections – which are in dire need of new treatments.

These infectious diseases infect billions of people in poor countries and kill more than 6 million annually. Given the limited resources for drug research and development in the developing world, it is hoped that the new online network, established by the WHO-backed Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, will improve the situation.

The new online network “provides an outstanding example of how WHO can bring together multiple groups to develop joint solutions,” said Programme Director Dr. Robert Ridley, TDR Director.

Another web project launched today is a web database, similar to the popular online database Wikipedia, and aims to update global medical and health statistics.

The last version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) – the worldwide standard for classifying mortality and morbidity, or information related to deaths, illness and injury – was adopted in 1990 by all WHO Member States, and the overhauled version will allow registered users to submit information and evidence.

Registered users will be able to submit scientific input online, which will then be vetted by expert groups and will be subject to a strict editorial process.

The ICD was created in the 19th century and was taken over by WHO in 1948. The meeting of the steering group overseeing the revision began today in Japan and will conclude on 18 April.

In another development, WHO experts have begun compiling a list of essential medicines exclusively for children to help countries select which medicines to obtain to address health concerns.

Children are more seriously affected by diseases that adults also suffer from, especially in developing countries, with almost 11 million children under five dying every year from treatable conditions such as respiratory tract infections, malaria and diarrhoeal diseases. In 2005, 2.3 million children under the age of 15 were HIV positive.

Despite the huge need, there are currently few medications that are specifically designed for children. Children must take crushed adult tablets, which can be ineffective and also unsafe. Medicines that are the correct dosage for children often come in the form of syrups, making supply, storage and pricing problematic in poor countries.

The problem is compounded when children require combination therapy, or several types of medicine, for conditions such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Although production of fixed dose combination tablets, or single pills containing several medicines, is on the rise, there is still a shortage of such pills targeting children. Antiretroviral treatments for HIV are presently three times more expensive for children than they are for adults.

To create a list of essential medicines for children, WHO will work with its partners to promote innovation and research in children’s medicines, the manufacturing of new dosage forms for young people, and new methods to convey information about children’s medications to countries quickly.

The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, which is not specifically for children, was released today, and it included five liquid medicines to be taken orally for children. Three are for epilepsy, one for children born prematurely and one for HIV/AIDS in a single dose. Three other epilepsy medicines for children were also added to the list in the form of chewable tablets, a form which has been increasingly shown to be effective for children.