Fruit-flavoured drugs to slash TB deaths

HARARE - More children are likely to survive tuberculosis (TB), the leading infectious disease killer, after Zimbabwe announced it plans to introduce new strawberry and raspberry-flavoured medicines in January.

TB killed 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s children last year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and a lack of market incentives has hindered the development of drugs for children.

Many children with TB do not complete their treatment because they have to take several bitter-tasting medicines everyday for at least six months. The dosage is often imprecise as parents have to cut and crush adult-sized drugs for their children.

From early 2017, soluble child-sized doses of the three major drugs used to treat TB will be available, helping to save lives.

“Zimbabwe will start using the formulations in January, 2017. It is envisaged that the new formulations shall contribute to improved treatment adherence and outcomes, resulting in no child succumbing to TB,” TB medicines logistics focal person Masimba Dube and childhood TB officer Norma Mugwagwa in the  ministry of Health and Child Care said in a new report.

“The improved formulations are flavoured, making them more palatable than the formulations currently in use. It is important to note that the fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) are not new drugs, but rather improved formulations of presently used medicines recommended for the first line treatment of TB.”

The child friendly medicines were recommended by the WHO.

When TB patients do not complete their treatment, they fall ill again, often with hard-to-treat drug-resistant “superbug” strains that are rapidly gaining a foothold globally.

Several children catch drug-resistant TB each year, and it is often fatal.

TB is spread by bacteria when someone with untreated TB, often a family member, coughs or sneezes. Children who survive can become blind, deaf, paralyzed or mentally disabled.

“...health workers and care givers faced unforeseen challenges in implementing the revised recommendations. To address this challenge, WHO recently prequalified rifampicin 75mg, isoniazid 50mg and rifampicin 75mg, isoniazid 50mg, pyrazinamide 150mg, dispersible tablets,” Dube and Mugwagwa said.

“The improved formulations have been developed in line with the revised dosing published in the 2014 WHO Guidance on Childhood TB. They have higher doses of rifampicin and isoniazid as compared to those currently in use, thereby reducing the pill burden for patients.

“Moreover, the significantly higher dose of isoniazid eliminates the need to add additional isoniazid as has been the practice with the available formulations which were proving difficult to administer to children.”

Overall, the improved treatment is set to provide child-friendly medicines to improve the daily lives of children and their families struggling with TB.

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