UN health bodies recently called for more research and clinical trials to close gaps in the market for children's medicines that cost millions lives in developing countries each year.
The UN children's fund Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a list of medicines designed for children and said it exposed dangerous shortfalls.
"While effective medicines exist to fight disease and treat life-threatening conditions like malnutrition, formulations suitable for children are often difficult to source," said Francisco Blanco, Unicef's chief of medicines and nutrition.
Left without children's formulations, healthcare workers and parents often resort to using fractions of adult dosage forms or prepare makeshift prescriptions of medicines by crushing tablets or dissolving portions of capsules in water.
This is not always safe or effective as the dose will not be accurate, Blanco said in a statement, adding that there was also a need for more clinical trials and research into paediatric medicines.
The Geneva-based organisations said the children's medicine guide, which will be available online, would help doctors and health workers get better access to some of the 240 basic medicines that can save children's lives by giving information on where to find them and how much they cost.
Millions of deaths preventable
"An estimated 9 million children die each year from preventable and treatable causes," said Hans Hogerzeil, director of essential medicines and pharmaceutical policies at WHO.
He said more than half those deaths are caused by diseases which could be treated with safe essential child-specific medicines, including respiratory conditions, pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, neonatal infections, malaria and HIV/Aids.
"Improved availability and access to safe child-specific medicines is still far from reality for many children in poor countries," he added in a statement.
Diarrhoea and HIV/Aids
The guide said the number of sources was limited for the children's treatments of diarrhoea and HIV/Aids, and it was still difficult to get child-specific medicines to treat tropical infections that are endemic in Africa and Asia.
It highlighted diseases such as schistosomiasis, filariasis, and parasites transmitted through soil, for which there are few manufacturers who produce child-specific medicines.
"Broadening the market search for essential medicines in this category is a serious challenge," the WHO said.
The WHO recommended that wherever possible, medicines for children should be provided as flexible, solid, oral dosage forms that can be given an a liquid form to a sick child.
But liquid formulations are often more expensive compared to dispersible tablets and are also more costly to store, package, and transport safely. - (Kate Kelland/Reuters Health, May 2010)