Drugmakers tackle health crisis of child sex abuse


* First coordinated response by health care industry

* Sex abuse termed "growing public health crisis"

* NGO data: 1 in 5 girls sexually victimised

ZURICH, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Leading drugmakers will help setup psychological centres for victims of child sex abuse in aneffort to counter the long-term health problems suffered byvictims.

Roche , Merck and GlaxoSmithKlineare to j oin forces with Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinicand others to improve medical education and accelerate the earlyidentification of victims.

Sexual exploitation when a child can saddle a person withlife-long illnesses and a range of mental problems.

"For the first time in history, the healthcare industry iscoming together to attack the scourge of child sexual abuse andexploitation as a public health issue," Franz Humer, chairman ofRoche and ICMEC, said on Thursday.

The 25-member committee, which is funded via donations andby governments, will go beyond only providing drugs and plans todevelop an "action plan", including undertaking epidemiologicalresearch and identifying gaps in the treatment of victims.

At least one in five girls and one in 10 boys are victims ofsexual abuse before they reach the age of 18, but only one inthree cases is reported, according to the International Centrefor Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).

Studies have shown that victims of sexual abuse often suffermental and physical health problems, including depression,anxiety, eating and sleeping disorders, and a higher risk ofdeath from heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

While governments have made progress in enacting laws toprotect children, the problem is still growing, prompting theneed for a coordinated global effort and an industry-wideapproach, ICMEC president Ernie Allen said.

"This is a problem of hidden victims," Allen told a newsconference. "The key challenge is to awaken the world."

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Robert Woodward)

((Caroline.Copley@thomsonreuters.com)(+41 58 306 7354)(ReutersMessaging: caroline.copley.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))