The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a list of priority medicines for the treatment of common and complicated illnesses affecting mothers and their children.

The list of 30 essential medicines, which was launched in Accra on Monday at the 18th expert committee on the selection and use of essential medicines, is to help improve maternal and child health across the globe in relation to the achievement of goals four and five of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

A clinical pharmacologist at the WHO, Dr Suzanne Hill, at a press briefing, said the list of priority medicines was developed by the WHO, in conjunction with UNICEF, to help countries select and make available those medicines that would make bigger impacts on reducing maternal, new-born and child morbidity and mortality.

The WHO identifies haemorrhage or severe bleeding as the leading cause of maternal death, saying that it can kill a healthy woman within two hours of giving birth. It has, therefore, recommended an injection of oxytocin immediately after delivery and that it can make a difference between life and death.

Other medicines on the list for mothers include medicines to treat infections, high blood pressure, sexually transmitted infections, as well as drugs to prevent pre-term birth.

Also, it says every year pneumonia kills an estimated 1.6 million children under five, yet research has shown that treatment with simple antibiotics can avert as many as 600,000 deaths.

Among others, WHO says improving access to oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc tablets will save many of the 1.3 million children who die of diarrhoea, adding that appropriate doses of the right combination of antimalarials and anti-retrovirals are critical to reducing child deaths and suffering from malaria and AIDS-related illnesses.

Dr Hill said an estimated 8.1 million children under five died every year and an estimated 1,000 women, mostly from developing countries, died every day due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

Many of those deaths, she said, were due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable medicines but those drugs were mostly not available at public health facilities.

She said the availability of medicines in developing countries for maternal and child health was compromised by poor supply distribution systems, insufficient health facilities and staff investment in health and the high cost of medicines.

According to the WHO, surveys conducted in 14 African countries showed that children’s medicines were available in only 50 per cent of public and private centre pharmacies and drug stores.

Source: Daily Graphic/Ghana