UN health agency launches new drive to develop child-size drugs
Citing the need for medicines better tailored to children’s needs, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today unveiled plans for further research and development into child medicine.
The agency presented its new initiative at the London launch of the “make medicines child size” campaign. Spearheaded by WHO, the campaign aims to raise awareness and spur action to address the need to ensure that all children under the age of 15 have better access to medicines appropriate for them.
Greater efforts are needed in this area given that many medicines available today are not developed for children or available in suitable dosages or formats. When they are available, they are not reaching the children who need them most, notes WHO.
“The gap between the availability and the need for child-appropriate medicines touches wealthy as well as poor countries,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “As we strive for equitable access to scientific progress in health, children must be one of our top priorities.”
According to WHO, more than half of children in industrialized societies are prescribed medicines whose dosages are intended for adults and not authorized for use in children. In developing countries, the problem is made worse by lower access to medicines.
The agency adds that about six million children – out of the 10 million that do not reach their fifth birthday every year – die of treatable conditions and could be saved if the medicines they need were readily available, safe, effective and affordable.
Pneumonia kills two million children under five each year and HIV kills 330,000 children under 15. “These illnesses can be treated, but many children don’t stand a chance because the medicines are either not appropriate for their age, don’t reach them or are priced too high – up to three times the price of adult drugs,” said Howard Zucker, WHO Assistant Director-General.
The medicines that need to be adapted to children’s needs include many antibiotics, as well as asthma and pain medication. The campaign also calls for more research and development of combination pills for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as appropriate child therapy for a number of neglected tropical diseases.
To promote increased attention to research into children’s drugs, WHO is building an Internet portal to clinical trials carried out in children and will publish that information early next year.
The agency is also releasing today the first international List of Essential Medicines for Children, containing over 200 medicines that are deemed safe for children. In addition, it will work with governments to address regulations for children’s medicines.