Skip to content
Hays - Recruiting experts worldwide
  1. I am
    I am
Browse by expertise


Child and maternal health is still a major issue across the globe, with eight million under fives dying from diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria each year and around 1,000 women dying each day due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. In order to improve these statistics and achieve global health goals, it is more important than ever that countries are aware of what the most important medicines for these at-risk groups are.

To this end, the World Health Organization (WHO) has produced the first ever list of priority medicines for maternal and child health. Compiled by medical experts, the list's overall aim is to identify the medicines that have the potential to save the most lives. In order to achieve this, the team focused on the leading causes of maternal and under fives mortality. Haemorrhage, or severe bleeding, is the leading cause of maternal death, while pneumonia kills an estimated 1.6 million children each year. Both of these conditions can be cured by life-saving medicines, with an oxytocin injection saving many pregnant women's lives and simple antibiotics having the power to avert 600,000 pneumonia-related deaths a year.

Similarly, giving them access to oral rehydration salts (ORS) could save as many as 1.3 million children who die from diarrhoea each year.

However, preventing this vast number of deaths is not as simple as identifying which medicines will save the most lives, there is also the question of making them accessible to developing countries.

Surveys by the WHO show that in 14 African nations children's medicines are only available in between 35 and 50 per cent of pharmacies and drug stores, highlighting just how many people have to go without.

Commenting, Dr Elizabeth Mason, director of WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, said: "We know that basic, cheap oral rehydration salts and zinc stop children from dying from diarrhoea, and we recommend that all countries make them accessible.

"But our surveys show that, at present, ORS is available in less than half of pharmacies and kiosks in African countries and zinc is not available at all in many places. This list is designed to help countries prioritise, so that they focus on getting the most critical things available and save the most lives."

The reason that these medicines are not available currently is often to do with supply issues, but is also linked to a lack of awareness that children need different medicines to adults. Health workers in developing countries often have to adapt adult medicines for younger patients, however, there is a risk that these could prove ineffective or harmful even if smaller amounts are taken.

And the challenges of providing child appropriate medicines do not stop there. Some of the medicines included on WHO's list do not even exist yet.

Five of the urgently-needed medicines on the list which would be used for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis do not even exist in a palatable form for children.

WHO is currently urging firms to conduct more research into how to combine ethambutol, rifampicam, isoniazid and pyrazinamide into between 0.5 and two tablets per day.

The medical industry was welcomed WHO's priority medicines list, with many exerts stating that it will be a huge help to healthcare professionals in the field.

Professor James Walker, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists senior vice president, said: "This should be seen as a start of the process of developing appropriate standards. Policy makers in international development should take cognisance of this as it is a useful indicator of future funding and planning of maternal and child health programmes."