Pediatric drug shortages in China would allegedly jeopardize the lives of children – if children end up being given inaccurate doses, according to an investigation by the national radio station.

A five-year-old girl from Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province, was recently prescribed Promethazine, an antihistamine for treating allergies. While the prescription said the girl should be given only 3/5 of one tablet of the drug, her father misunderstood the script as saying 3 to 5 tablets each time. This resulted in him feeding his daughter five tablets at one time, the Voice of China, the flagship radio channel of China National Radio, reported.

This antihistamine not only treats allergies, but also people who have trouble sleeping, plus nausea. The overdose sedated the girl for three days, which caused her parents to send her to Hunan Children’s Hospital, where their daughter received hemodialysis to remove the drug overdose, according to Long Rong, deputy head at the hospital’s dispensary.

Officials said it was not uncommon that children – or adults – were given an incorrect dose of medicine that led to damage to internal organs, permanent hearing impairment, or was even life-threatening.

But, to be fair, it is difficult for parents to split a tablet meant for adults into an accurate dose for pediatric patients, Long said. And it was not efficient to advise parents to crush pills into halves or smaller portions to give to their children.

On top of measuring medication doses according to a child’s body weight or body surface area, pediatric drug dosing also needs to be based on the physiological characteristics of the child and the pharmacokinetic parameters of the drug, Long explained.

Forms of medicine should be provided that are appropriate for various ages, yet the Chinese market lacked this.

Developing drugs for children was a lot more difficult than adults as the risk of clinical studies in children and infants was much higher, according to the owner of a Chinese pharmaceutical maker named Yang.

For instance, a drug would have to be designed with different doses and different ways of being administered to match the child’s age. It was very difficult to recruit volunteers for drug tests, as parents would be unlikely to say ‘yes’ to substances that had been proven safe and effective.

The Chinese government should set up policies to assist the development of a drug industry for children, Yang said, adding that more technical support in terms of conducting clinical trials should be provided to drug companies.