Essential medicines for children

Priority life-saving medicines for women and children

Priority live-saving medicines for women and children 2012

The list of priority medicines for mothers and children 2011 has been updated following the 18th Expert Committee on Selection and Use of Medicines, the release of new treatment guidelines and feedback from stakeholders.

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Priority medicines are medicines with potential to save lives and should be available in all health systems. The priority medicines list for mothers and children helps countries select and make available the most important medicines.

Major causes of death in mothers and children could be prevented or treated with access to simple and affordable medicines. However, many medicines are not available in countries.

In order to improve access, priority medicines should be:

  • Manufactured according to quality standards
  • Licensed for use by regulatory authorities
  • On National Essential Medicines lists
  • Part of national standard treatment guidelines
  • Procured from the supplier of a quality product
  • In the supply chain
  • Prescribed by health care professionals who know how to use them

Priority medicines for children under five

Medicines for pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, neonatal sepsis, HIV/AIDS and vitamin A deficiency are included on the priority list. Treatments for palliative care and pain are also listed.

Medicines for children need to be available in dosage forms that can be given to children of different weights and ages, that are pleasant tasting and easy for children to swallow. Solid dosage forms that can be dispersed in liquid are ideal as they are less costly to store and transport than bulky and heavy liquid dosage forms.

Adapting adult medicines for children by breaking or crushing tablets and dissolving them in liquid can result in treatment that is ineffective or unsafe.

Missing medicines

Additional research and development is urgently needed for appropriate products for prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, particularly in HIV-infected children, and for newborn care. Optimal dose and strength, fixed-dose combination products and/or regulatory pathways need to be defined and determined.

Priority medicines for women

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth account for the majority of maternal deaths. The priority list includes medicines to treat severe bleeding (postpartum haemorrhage), high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia) and maternal infection (sepsis). Also included are treatments for sexually transmitted infections and prevention of preterm birth.

How the list was developed

Medicines were chosen by experts in maternal and child health and medicines according to the global burden of disease and based on evidence of efficacy and safety. Medicines were selected from the Model List of Essential Medicines and are included in current WHO treatment guidelines.

Related links


Essential medicines


Treatment guidelines

Supply chain management

Information on medicine use for health care workers


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