The World Health Organisation has prequalified a chewable formulation of deworming medicine mebendazole, making it available to treat children as young as one.
Vermox, trade name for the 500mg mebendazole tablets produced by the pharmaceutical firm Janssen, one of the companies of Johnson & Johnson, will be donated to the WHO, which manages and coordinates country requests for it.
More than 1.4 billion doses of the drug have been donated since 2006, reaching an estimated 800 million worldwide.
“The WHO prequalification of this easier-to-swallow formulation is a critical step in our efforts to help young children suffering from these devastating infections,” said Paul Stoffels, vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson.
The chewable tablets target intestinal worms: roundworms, whipworms and two species of hookworms—the most common species that affect humans.
One in five adults and children are infected with intestinal worms, considered a neglected tropical disease, but children are particularly vulnerable.
Intestinal worms can lead to malnutrition and stunting, conditions that create long-lasting effects and impact on cognitive development.
Solid tablets can be inconvenient for children to swallow, creating a challenge to treating worm infection in children.
The new formulation can either be chewed or mixed with a small amount of water to form a soft paste that is easier for young children to safely ingest, according to a release issued on the prequalification.
The firm says it is going beyond drug donations to the WHO—and moving to improve diagnostics, monitoring and evaluation of intestinal worms to allow for better data collection and decision making, according to Jaak Peeters, head of global public health at Johnson & Johnson.
“We want to help the global health community identify sustainable, long-term solutions to reduce the prevalence of intestinal worms.”
Intestinal worms are among the most common infections world over. They are transmitted by eggs present in human faeces, which contaminated the soil in areas where sanitation is poor. That’s why they are also called soil-transmitted helminths.
Up to 270 million preschool-age children and nearly 570 million children of school age live in endemic areas and need public health interventions such as preventive chemotherapy, sanitation, and safe water.
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