WHO Says Millions of Children Die from Lack of Medicine

The World Health Organization says millions of children around the world die each year because appropriate medicine is not available.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva the U.N. agency is launching a campaign to get pharmaceutical companies to research and develop medicines that are better tailored to children's needs.

The World Health Organization reports each year about 10 million children do not reach their fifth birthday.  It says about 6 million of these children die of treatable conditions, and could be saved if the medicine they need were readily available, safe, effective and affordable.

Every year, the World Health Organization says about 2 million young children die from pneumonia, nearly one million from malaria and HIV kills 330,000 children under 15.

WHO Assistant Director-General, Howard Zucker, says these illnesses are treatable.  But, children do not stand a chance because the medicines are either not appropriate for their age, do not reach them or are priced too high.

"More medicines must be made child size," he said.  "And what we mean by that is that the needs of children in the dosage forms and in the preparation that children can take these medicines and in addition to that needs to be targeted for specific illnesses.  There are many illnesses that are [more] specific to kids than to adults and we need to target those illnesses in children with them as well."

The World Health Organization says children are not small adults, they metabolize medicine differently than adults and need different dosage forms. 

WHO Medicines Policy and Standards Director Dr. Hans Hogerzeil says essential medicine appropriate for children must be developed for five conditions in particular.  They include pneumonia and other acute lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and neglected diseases, such as worms and parasitic diseases.

The WHO campaign targets a range of medicines, including antibiotics, asthma, and pain medication. 

Dr. Hogerzeil says children often do not receive the medicine they need because the price is prohibitive.

"Currently, even some of the combinations for children for AIDS are two to eight times the price of the adult medicine," he added.  "So, if you have a child, it is much more expensive to treat a child than it is to treat an adult, because there has been a lot of competition among the adult medicines, but hardly any competition for the children's medicines.  So, bringing more products to the market will hopefully lead to competition and further price reductions."

The World Health Organization says the gap between the availability and the need for child-appropriate medicine touches wealthy as well as poor countries.  But, the World Health Organization notes most children die from treatable diseases in Africa and India.

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