THE Department of Health (DOH) is planning to introduce a new package of anti-tuberculosis (TB) medicines that are for the first time specifically for-mulated for children, possibly as soon as January 2017, the agency announced.
Several countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa are pursuing the initiative, with the Philippines said to be one of the early adopters of the idea, said Steve Graham, a professor of international child health at the University of Melbourne and a senior consultant for child lung health at The Union, a non-profit organization based in France which aims to control TB, HIV, asthma, lung diseases and tobacco.
Other countries in the region like Cambodia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea were also preparing along with African countries Kenya and Tanzania for the anticipated introduction of the new drugs, Graham said.
The medicines are not new; they are reformulations of existing medicines but the dosage appropriate for children, and with added flavors to make them more palatable for kids. The US-based non-profit TB Alliance and drug firm, Macleods Pharmaceuticals, developed the new drugs with funding from the Geneva-based health charity and research group UNITAID.
Manila resident Mari Toni Aumentado, who spoke at the August 19 forum and who is undergoing treatment for TB along with three of her kids, said, “It is very hard to prepare the medicines everyday, because I have to cut them into pieces for the children. It also tastes awful, so I have a hard time convincing them to take it.”
What the new child-friendly formulation will help is to reduce the erratic and inaccurate therapy that results from problems like those Aumentado encounters, and which can contribute to the development of drug-resistant TB, as well as increase the number of children being treated for the disease, said Rajendra Radav, country medical officer at the WHO (World Health Organization) Philippines.
“Too many kids with TB are not being treated,” Radav said, explaining that each year, one million children worldwide contract TB, resulting in about 140,000 deaths per year, which could be higher since he suspects many of the acute anemia deaths in kids are actually due to TB.
“And those that get treated are treated with medicines and dosage intended for adults that negatively affect outcomes,” he added. “With the right dosage for kids, health outcomes would improve.”
Graham said countries that have expressed interest in the TB drugs for kids are currently working on the policies and guidelines for procurement, distribution, detection, diagnosis and other issues.
Rosalind Vianzon, Division Chief of the Intensified Disease Prevention and Control Division at the DOH, noted that in the Philippines, the challenges to be overcome in rolling out the new drug program include capacitating those who will deliver the services and ensuring there is enough budget to guarantee continuous supply.
“Another main challenge is allocation and making sure that medicines are available particularly in rural areas,” Vianzon added.