The WHO on Monday released a list of 30 medicines that "are essential for treating common diseases of mothers and children," Ghana News Agency reports (3/21).
The list, which is the first of its kind, "includes oxytocin, a drug used to treat severe bleeding after childbirth, the leading cause of maternal death, as well as simple antibiotics to treat pneumonia, which kills an estimated 1.6 million children under the age of five every year," U.N. News Centre writes. Other medicines on the list are for the treatment of sexually transmitted infections and high blood pressure in women, malaria, diarrhea and AIDS-related illnesses in children (3/21). Maternal and child health specialists compiled the list, which aims "to establish which medicines would save the most lives," a WHO press release states (3/21).
At a press conference in Accra, Ghana, to launch the list, Suzanne Hill, a clinical pharmacologist in charge of medicines access and rational use at WHO, "said an estimated 8.1 million children under-five died every year and an estimated 1,000 women, mostly in developing countries, died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth," Ghana News Agency reports. Most of these deaths could be prevented or treated with basic, low-cost medicines, but access to the drugs is often limited, she said. "Access to essential medicine is key to achieving the Millennium Development Goal on maternal deaths," she said (3/21).
According to the WHO, "surveys conducted in 14 African countries show that children's medicines are available in only 35 percent to 50 percent of public and private centre pharmacies and drug stores," U.N. News Centre notes. "The availability of medicines in developing countries for maternal and child health is compromised, the agency said, by poor supply and distribution systems, insufficient health facilities and staff, low investment in health and the high cost of medicines." The list aims to address this issue by helping "countries prioritize, so that they focus on getting the most critical things available and save the most lives," said Elizabeth Mason, director of WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (3/21).
In its release, WHO also notes the scarcity of medicines appropriate for children, "partly because of a lack of awareness that children need different medicines from adults. ... WHO recommends that, wherever possible, medicines for children should be provided in doses that are easy to measure and easy for children to take." The release adds: "WHO is therefore calling for more research to develop appropriate, palatable formulations for children" (3/21).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.