ZURICH (Reuters) - Leading drugmakers will help set up psychological centers for victims of child sex abuse in an effort to counter the long-term health problems suffered by victims.
Roche, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are to join forces with Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and others to improve medical education and accelerate the early identification of victims.
Sexual exploitation when a child can saddle a person with life-long illnesses and a range of mental problems.
"For the first time in history, the healthcare industry is coming together to attack the scourge of child sexual abuse and exploitation as a public health issue," Franz Humer, chairman of Roche and ICMEC, said on Thursday.
The 25-member committee, which is funded via donations and by governments, will go beyond only providing drugs and plans to develop an "action plan", including undertaking epidemiological research and identifying gaps in the treatment of victims.
At least one in five girls and one in 10 boys are victims of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18, but only one in three cases is reported, according to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).
Studies have shown that victims of sexual abuse often suffer mental and physical health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating and sleeping disorders, and a higher risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
While governments have made progress in enacting laws to protect children, the problem is still growing, prompting the need for a coordinated global effort and an industry-wide approach, ICMEC president Ernie Allen said.
"This is a problem of hidden victims," Allen told a news conference. "The key challenge is to awaken the world."
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Robert Woodward)