TB Alliance, WHO launch child-friendly TB drugs

In a first, child-friendly TB drugs for first-line medication are available in a fixed-dose combination with the launch by TB Alliance, UNITAID and WHO at the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday. The drugs, meeting WHO's revised dosage guidelines of 2010, are meant for children weighing under 25 kg.

According to Cheris Scott, head of the pediatric programmes at TB Alliance, Geneva, the fixed-dose drugs are already available and countries can place an order, which can take 2-3 months for delivery.

Currently child-friendly drugs are being manufactured only by Mumbai-based Macleods Pharmaceuticals. The medicines would cost $15.54 for the six-month course of treatment. The availability of child-friendly TB drugs of correct dosages would increase drug adherence and thereby reduce acquired drug resistance. The WHO says, each year, at least 1 million children become ill with TB.

As the fixed-dose combinations are in dissolvable form, there is no need to crush the tablets, instead, the required number of paediatric tablets can be dissolved in water. Thanks to their flavour, children find it easier to take the medicine.

According to the WHO, the disease killed 140,000 children and 1.37 million adults in 2014. One million children were in infected during the same year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), but a lack of market incentives has hindered the development of drugs for children, the TB Alliance campaign group said. Many children who contact the disease do not complete their treatment as they need to take several bitter-tasting medicines every day for at least six months. The dosage is quite often imprecise and parents have to cut and crush adult-sized drugs for their children.

When TB patients are not able to complete treatment, they fall ill again, often with hard-to-treat drug-resistant "superbug" strains that are becoming a menace globally. Some 32,000 children fall ill with the drug-resistant TB each year, which is often fatal, according to US researchers.