Essential medicines are those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population.
Using an essential medicines list (EML) makes medicine management easier in all respects; procurement, storage and distribution are easier with fewer items, and prescribing and dispensing are easier for professionals if they have to know about fewer items. A national EML should be based upon national clinical guidelines. Medicine selection should be done by a central committee with an agreed membership and using explicit, previously agreed criteria, based on efficacy, safety, quality, cost (which will vary locally) and cost-effectiveness, EMLs should be regularly updated and their introduction accompanied by an official launch, training and dissemination. Public sector procurement and distribution of medicines should be limited primarily to those medicines on the EML, and it must be ensured that only those health workers approved to use certain medicines are actually supplied with them. Government activities in the pharmaceutical sector (e.g. quality assurance, insurance reimbursement policies and training), should focus on the EML. The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines can provide a starting point for countries to develop their own national EML.