New funding enables UN agencies to further research children’s medicines

21 January 2009 – Two United Nations agencies will be able to boost research into “child size” medicines designed and formulated specifically for children thanks to a $9.7 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant will contribute to accelerating work on investigating, clarifying and communicating to partners, including industry, what the needs of children are in terms of medicines and dosages to more effectively fight child morbidity and mortality,” said Hanne Bak Pedersen, Deputy-Director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Supply Division.

UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a joint news release that many medicines available today are only designed for adults.

“More than 50 per cent of medicines prescribed for children have either not been developed specifically for children or have not been proven to be effective and safe for their use,” the agencies stated.

As a result, many children lack access to essential treatment because no suitable paediatric dosage or formulation of the necessary medicine exists, or those that do exist are not available or are too expensive. Also, sometimes healthcare workers and parents use fractions of adult dosage forms or prepare “makeshift” prescriptions of medicines by crushing tablets or dissolving portions of capsules in water.

“We must take the guesswork out of medicines for children,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Carissa Etienne. “Children are suffering and dying from diseases we can treat, and yet we lack the critical evidence needed to deliver appropriate, effective, affordable medicines that might save them.”

Dr. Hans Hogerzeil, Director of Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies at WHO, noted that some progress has been made on children’s medicines but too many medicines are still given to children that have never been properly tested for them. “This work is an excellent example of coordination of United Nations agencies and key experts in the world to address this urgent problem.”

The grant will enable research to determine the optimum dosage forms for paediatric medicines; develop dosing guides; and develop guidelines for testing, treatment and use of medicines in children, including guidelines on conducting clinical trials in children.

This work follows the WHO-led “make medicines child size” initiative launched in December 2007, which focuses on improving access to better medicines for children.


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