Medicines

Medicines prevent and treat diseases that threaten the lives and well-being of children, adolescents and their caregivers.

Kansiime Ruth (only partially shown) uses a spoon to give pediatric HIV medicine to her one-year old son Lighton, in Uganda, 2019.
UNICEF/UNI211899/Schermbrucker

The challenge

Without access to quality, safe and effective medicines, children are exposed to preventable and treatable diseases. Pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases and malaria are some of the most life-threatening for children under five years of age.  

This is especially true for vulnerable children in resource-limited settings, conflicts and disasters, where lack of lack of access to medicines compromises not only their right to health, but also their ability to survive and thrive.  

Sometimes, even when quality and safe medicines are available, ensuring that these medicines are in formulations that are appropriate for children can be challenging. Administering accurate doses is critical for proper treatment of children. However, many medicines are only available in formulations that are appropriate for adults and not children.  

Ensuring a reliable supply of quality medicines that are appropriate for children takes expertise, diligence and attention to detail. 

The solution

A phsysician reads a prescription written for Sugarmaa Batjargal, 1, to her mother, at a health centre in Alag-Erdene district, Khövsgöl province, Mongolia.
UNICEF/UN0336378/Babajanyan VII Photo

UNICEF procures medicines to prevent and treat diseases that affect children, adolescents and their caregivers. These medicines include those for acute respiratory infections, sepsis and other infections that affect newborns, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and HIV. These are based on World Health Organization (WHO)’s guidelines and standards. UNICEF works with WHO and other partners to promote the development of paediatric formulations of medicines, including dispersible tablets that disintegrate in water or a small amount of breast milk.

In 2018, UNICEF procured $124 million worth of medicines. More than half of this spend went to medicines that included:  

  • Antibiotics such as Amoxicillin dispersible tablet to provide 36.7 million treatments for pneumonia in children under five  
  • Antimalarials for intermittent preventive treatment against malaria for 4.4 million pregnant women, and 1.1 million treatments for seasonal malaria chemoprevention (equivalent to provide 270,000 children with 4 cycles of seasonal malaria chemoprevention)
  • Antiretrovirals (ARVs) to treat an estimated 436,000 adult patients for one year of first-line therapy, including for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission

We require that good manufacturing, quality and regulatory standards are met before procuring medicines. Procurement is done for supply to more than 100 countries, either directly from suppliers or through UNICEF’s Copenhagen warehouse.  

Our work in ensuring a healthy future for every child means we must also build our capacity to address emerging global health priorities. New areas of focus for procurement include medicines for non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and mental disorders, as well as medicines for priority public health programmes such as hepatitis C.