New kid-friendly tuberculosis (TB) drugs are expected to hit markets, the TB Alliance announced. These dissolvable tablets have sweet flavours and accurate dosages specially manufactured for children.

The TB Alliance developed the tablets teaming up with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNITAID, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States government. Together, they aim to reduce numbers of children not adhering to TB medicines in developing countries. With more child-friendly medicine, they hope that drug regimen adherence will be improved.

TB Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to discover and develop better, fast-acting and affordable tuberculosis drugs that can be available to those who need them. With a simplified and improved treatment form for TB, around one million children with the disease can be treated.

Indian pharmaceutical company Macleods developed the medicine and estimates it to be available in early 2016. Kenya, listed among the top 22 countries with the highest incidence rate for TB, could be one of the first locations where the drug will be made available. 

The new drugs are fixed dose combinations (FDCs) containing three of the most typically administered anti-TB medicines. These medicines are rifampicin, isoniazid and pyrazinamide, which are very common first line drugs for TB but in the new formulation. They are now dissolvable and flavoured so parents will not have a hard time administering them to their kids.

Tuberculosis drugs should be given in correct doses to children

At present, giving accurate and appropriate treatment of tuberculosis to children remains a challenge. Correct doses of four drugs should be administered depending on several factors. In fact, though there are several fixed-dose combination drugs in the market, these do not coincide with appropriate doses imposed by the WHO.

Currently, the WHO recommends four major medicines as first line treatment for TB: isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide and ethambutol. Dosing instructions for the use of these anti-tuberculosis medicines are already available but with the new child-friendly medicines that are easier and more convenient to take, childhood adherence and survival from TB can be achieved.

"The availability of correctly dosed medications will improve treatment for children everywhere," said Dr. Mel Spigelman, President and CEO of TB Alliance.

"This is an important step toward ending the neglect that has characterized the care of children with TB for far too long," he added.

TB Alliance has been working with various manufacturers to come up with accurately-formulated TB drugs designed for kids. With help and funding from various government agencies, the medicines will help a lot of children suffering from this highly infectious disease.

"If we are to end the TB epidemic by 2030, we must bring children with TB out of the shadows and ensure they are properly diagnosed, treated and cured," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, Director of the Global TB Programme at WHO, said.

He added that the formulations for kids will offer hope to around 400 kids who die of TB every day. Developing countries are in need of these drugs to curb TB deaths and improve child survival.

TB by the numbers

Tuberculosis is a top infectious disease killer around the world. In 2014, around 9.6 million people became infected with TB and 1.5 million died of the disease. According to health statistics, over 95 percent of deaths related to TB occur mostly in low and middle income countries. Among children, an estimated one million became ill with TB and 140,000 die each yeaer.

"No child should die of TB, yet for too long, we have not had the medicines or the functioning market needed to mount a sustainable response against childhood TB," Mr. Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of UNITAID, said.

"UNITAID's investment in addressing this problem will increase access to correctly dosed, quality-assured, affordable TB medicines for children that will help save lives," he added. 

Photo: Yale Rosen | Flickr

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