World Health Organization
Serious illness is a major reason why poor populations remain trapped in poverty. Where public health services and insurance are inadequate, health care and medicines costs push households further into debt and dependency. Parents cannot afford to send their children to school, working days are lost and economic productivity declines. In countries hit hardest by diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, development has ceased altogether.
Essential drugs and medicines are one of the vital tools needed to improve and maintain health. The WHO Medicines Strategy 2000-2003 is now serving as the basis for coordinated action to bring medicines where they are most urgently needed. The strategy was developed with a country perspective, in broad consultation with over 60 countries, and with the WHO "global medicines family". This family includes not only WHO programmes, but also WHO Expert Committees and Panels, WHO Collaborating Centres, international agencies and academic institutions.
Essential drugs have a profound impact on:
... health - Effective drug treatment now exists for most leading infectious diseases, including acute respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhoeal diseases, as well as leading noncommunicable diseases such as ischaemic heart diseases and cancer.
... cost-effectiveness of health expenditures - In many developing countries, medicines represent the largest household health expenditure, and in most countries public pharmaceutical expenditure is second only to spending on staff costs. By focusing pharmaceutical expenditure on essential drugs, the cost-effectiveness of government and out-of-pocket drug expenditure can be enhanced and health impact heightened.
... health system effectiveness - Essential drugs are high-value commodities. Their availability draws patients to health facilities, where they can also benefit from preventive services. Moreover, if drug procurement is efficient and transparent, the confidence of governments and donors in a country’s health system is increased, and provision of resources encouraged.
The strategy’s starting point was WHO’s mission in medicines:
To help save lives and improve health by closing the huge gap between the potential that essential drugs have to offer and the reality that for millions of people - particularly the poor and disadvantaged - medicines are unavailable, unaffordable, unsafe or improperly used.
© World Health Organization 2000
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