WHO to improve affordable access to essential medicines


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated global guidance on medicines and diagnostic tests to address health challenges, prioritise highly effective therapeutics and improve affordable access.

The Essential Medicines List and List of Essential Diagnostics are core guidance documents that help countries prioritise critical health products that should be widely available and affordable throughout health systems.

The two recent lists focus on cancer and other global health challenges, with an emphasis on effective solutions, smart prioritisation and optimal access for patients.

The updated Essential Medicines List adds 28 medicines for adults and 23 for children, and specifies new uses for 26 already-listed products deemed essential for addressing key public health needs.

According to WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, more than 150 countries around the world depend on the list as a guide to affordable, wholesome medicines.

The director-general said that the new list contains the newest and most advanced cancer drugs, an indication that everyone deserved access to life-saving medicines.

“Around the world, more than 150 countries use WHO’s essential medicines list to guide decisions about which medicines represent the best value for money, based on evidence and health impact.

The inclusion in this list of some of the newest and most advanced cancer drugs is a strong statement that everyone deserves access to these life-saving medicines, not just those who can afford them,”he said.

Information in WHO’s official website states that while several new cancer treatments have been marketed in recent years, only a few deliver sufficient therapeutic benefits to be considered essential.

“For example, two recently developed immunotherapies (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) have delivered up to 50% survival rates for advanced melanoma, a cancer that until recently was incurable,’’the organisation stated.

It said that the Essential Medicines Committee advice on antibiotic use was also strengthened.


The medicines updated include: New oral anticoagulants to prevent stroke as an alternative to warfarin for atrial fibrillation and treatment of deep vein thrombosis; particularly advantageous for low-income countries as, unlike warfarin, they do not require regular monitoring.

Biologics and their respective biosimilars for chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as heat-stable carbetocin for the prevention of postpartum haemorrhage.