January 21, 2009 / 3:06 PM / in 10 years

WHO gets Gates grant for child medicines research

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday it had received a $9.7 million grant from the U.S.-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for research into the production and dosage of medicines for children.

Bill Gates speaks about philanthropy at the Clinton Global Initiative, in New York, September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

The research, aimed at increasing the low number of “child size” medicines available around the world and especially in developing countries, will be carried out in cooperation with the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, the WHO said.

At present, more than 50 percent of medicines prescribed for children have not been developed specifically for them, and have not been proved to be safe and effective for pediatric use, according to the WHO.

In the absence of child-size medicines, healthcare workers and parents often use fractions of adult doses or prepare makeshift prescriptions by crushing adult-size tablets or dissolving parts of capsules in water, it said.

“We must take the guesswork out of medicines for children,” said Carissa Etienne, a WHO assistant director-general.

“Children are suffering and dying from diseases we can treat, and yet we lack the critical evidence needed to deliver appropriate, effective and affordable medicines that might save them,” she added.

The WHO said that diarrhea — which kills 170 children under the age of 5 every hour worldwide — could be better tackled if zinc, the key treatment for the disease, could be made available in easy-to-take child-size doses.

The research funded by the new grant will aim mainly to determine the best dosage forms for children, such as smaller tablets, of existing medicines and to develop guidelines for testing. Results will be given to the pharmaceutical industry, a WHO statement said.

The U.N. agency quoted Jaime Sepulveda, a specialist at the Gates Foundation, as saying that improving essential medicines for children was “a critical global health issue.”

“This program will help provide effective health interventions to children and improve child survival, particularly in the world’s poorest countries,” Sepulveda said.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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