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[MANILA] Several countries are in a race to make the first large-scale rollout of new tuberculosis drugs designed for young children.
The drugs are not exactly new but a reformulation and an improvement over existing ones and specially target children — with the right dosage and added flavour to make it tolerable to take.

“With the right dosage for kids, health outcomes would improve.”

Rajendra Radav, WHO


Mari Toni Aumentado, who spoke about her family’s experience with TB treatment at a TB forum on 19 August in Manila, says that she and three of her kids are now undergoing treatment for TB. She says it is quite a chore to prepare the medicine and cut them into pieces for children’s dosage. It also tastes awful, making it doubly hard to convince her kids to take them daily. Experts say this interrupted, erratic and inadequate TB therapy fuel the development of drug-resistant TB.
But upon learning during the conference of the new TB drugs, which is a reformulation from single-dose combination for adults to correct fixed-dose combination for kids, Aumentado is already looking forward to its nationwide rollout in the Philippines possibly around January 2017.
The Philippines will be among the early adaptors of the new formulation, says 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 based in France which aims to control TB, HIV, asthma, and tobacco and lung diseases.
Other countries in the region which he said are also preparing for the anticipated introduction of the new drugs, include Cambodia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, along with African countries Kenya and Tanzania.
Rajendra Radav, country medical officer at the WHO Philippines office, says too many kids with TB are not being treated. Globally each year, one million children get sick with TB and 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 adds. “With the right dosage for kids, health outcomes would improve.”
Graham says 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, a division chief at the Department of Health, notes that in the Philippines, the challenges include capacitating those who will deliver the services and ensuring there is enough budget to guarantee continuous supply, since one of the complaints of mothers like Aumentado is the lack of TB medicines even though she lives in the capital city. “[Another] main challenge is allocation [and] making sure that medicines are available particularly in rural areas,” Vianzon adds.
The new drugs were developed by the non-profit US-based TB Alliance and drug firm Macleods Pharmaceuticals with funding from the Geneva-based UNITAID.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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