In times of chaos, natural disasters, epidemic or terrorist attacks, is the United States ready to respond to the needs of its constituents especially most vulnerable populations like children?

Despite marked progress in recent years, the United States still lacks ample resources to treat children in disasters, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported.

The AAP said that the country is still partly equipped to respond to the unique needs of children. Of all people, children are most susceptible to injury and illness during epidemics, acts of terrorism and natural calamities such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

"Children represent nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, but they are affected disproportionately by most disasters and public health emergencies," the authors of the report said.

The distinct needs of children ranging from specific drug formulations and small medical devices may hinder immediate treatment. This is because most emergency equipment are designed mostly for adults and these may not work for kids.

The report titled, "Medical Countermeasures for Children in Public Health Emergencies, Disasters or Terrorism," states that despite significant strides made in the last 10 to 15 years, there is much to be done to meet the needs of children of all ages. The availability of equipment, supplies, devices, medications and even vaccines is adequate but presently approved to be used by only adults.

The Government Needs To Fix The Problem

To meet the needs of children, the AAP recommends stockpiles should also include proper medicines with accurate dosages for children. The United States needs more investment in treatments appropriate for children including research to develop age-appropriate therapies.

"Without research and development the pipeline of new and innovative medical countermeasures will not be achieved or sustained," said lead report author Dr. Daniel Fagbuyi of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

"Life or death is what's at stake," Fagbuyi added.

Though in times of emergencies, there are mechanisms for the use of unapproved medicines and devices for children, more research is needed to assure efficacy and safety. The researchers recommend that the federal government should develop medical countermeasures (MCM) for children.

Biomedical research should be conducted to develop MCM for children that are safe, effective and age-appropriate. The distribution and forward deployment of medical needs should consider the location of children congregates such as schools, camps and communities. These locations should be explored as opportunities for advance cache storage and fast distribution to families.

Added costs should not hinder ample medical supply to children during disasters

Since children's needs are different from that of adults', concerns about added costs or storage space for pediatric-appropriate medical equipment or medicines should not hinder the government for lesser protection for children.

Dr. David Schonfeld, author of the study and a professor at the School of Social Work and Pediatrics at the University of Southern California and Children's Hospital Los Angeles, compare the scenario to a life boat that only has life vests for adults and if it will buy child-sized vests, it will cost too much.

"So in this situation if the boat sinks, there's only going to be life vests for adults because that will save the most people per dollar. I don't think anyone would agree that that's acceptable," he said. He added that a remedy is needed to be able to supply the needs of children in the country.

Finally, the authors said that federal officials need to have a plan in place for storage and distribution of emergency medications for children.

"The recommendations outlined in this statement should be used to guide pediatricians; federal, state, and local government agencies; and others in addressing this need," the researchers concluded.

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