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WHO and UNICEF tackle problem of missing essential medicines for children

GENEVA,  10 August 2006 — The first international Expert Consultation on Paediatric Essential Medicines, jointly held by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, today delivered a plan to revise existing essential medicine formulations to include the right dose and presentation for children.

"Children are often hailed as the hope and future of humanity, but they don't benefit enough from pharmaceutical research and technology," said Dr. Howard Zucker, Assistant-Director General at WHO. 

During two days of intensive discussion held 9-10 August at WHO's headquarters in Geneva, a mix of more than 20 developed and developing countries, non-governmental agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières, regulatory agencies, UNICEF and WHO staff prioritised a long-needed approach to overall paediatric care. 

Access to much needed child-focused formulations – fixed dose combinations (several pills in one) – crucial for children's correct use of medicines and treatment adherence is a top initiative. 

The WHO Expert Consultation warned that without a model of best practice guidelines and paediatric formulations, and a buy-in at national levels right down to local care centres, then children - who are 50 per cent of the population - will continue to be considered as therapeutic orphans.

"For example, it is worrying to see so very few medicines, suitable for use in resource-poor settings,  exist for children with HIV/AIDS, simply because most of these children live in poor countries and cannot pay for such medicines", said Dr. Hans Hogerzeil, WHO's Director for Medicines Policy and Standards.

According to Hanne Bak Pedersen of UNICEF's Supply Division, "UNICEF is concerned that children’s access to medicines is low in many resource-poor settings.  Furthermore, there is lack of availability of several paediatric formulations.  Based on the work expected from this project and WHO's clinical recommendations, UNICEF Supply Division will strengthen its dialogue with pharmaceutical companies to promote the development of the missing medicines for children."

Other initiatives called for in the plan are to improve medicines and prescribing guidelines addressing the entire range of infant and child care needs.  Priorities included respiratory infections, neonatal care, palliative care for end stage AIDS, for HIV/TB co-infection and for other opportunistic infections, and improved electronic access to latest WHO drug information that is already available in five languages.

High priority was placed on ensuring a holistic approach to child care and treatment, including addressing quality of life issues such as producing painless remedies instead of injections, better tasting medications and investigating new mini tablet presentations. Emphasis was also placed on considering the climate zone requirements linked to distribution and use for example in African countries, whenever new product formulations were made.

Immediately, the plan will go out to all countries to obtain feedback.  Assessments especially from developing countries with major illness profiles, will be reviewed and then WHO will prepare several applications for children's medicines to be placed on the WHO Essential Medicines List of March 2007. 

"This is a topic of such global proportions that any good action plan is likely to be funded by many interested parties - government agencies, foundations - to mention only two," remarked Dr. Hogerzeil.



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