A national drug policy is a commitment to a goal and a guide for action. It expresses and prioritizes the medium- to long-term goals set by the government for the pharmaceutical sector, and identifies the main strategies for attaining them. It provides a framework within which the activities of the pharmaceutical sector can be coordinated. It covers both the public and the private sectors, and involves all the main actors in the pharmaceutical field.
A national drug policy, presented and printed as an official government statement, is important because it acts as a formal record of aspirations, aims, decisions and commitments. Without such a formal policy document there may be no general overview of what is needed; as a result, some government measures may conflict with others, because the various goals and responsibilities are not clearly defined and understood. The policy document should be developed through a systematic process of consultation with all interested parties. In this process the objectives must be defined, priorities must be set, strategies must be developed and commitment built.
Progress in developing and implementing national drug policies has been impressive since the concept was launched in the mid-seventies. By 1999, 66 countries had formulated or updated a national drug policy within the previous 10 years, compared with 14 countries in 1989. A further 41 countries were in the process of developing a policy or had developed one more than 10 years ago.
Box 1 Why is a national drug policy needed?
• To present a formal record of values, aspirations, aims, decisions and medium- to long-term government commitments;
• To define the national goals and objectives for the pharmaceutical sector, and set priorities;
• To identify the strategies needed to meet those objectives, and identify the various actors responsible for implementing the main components of the policy;
• To create a forum for national discussions on these issues.
The consultations and national discussions that lead to the production of the drug policy document are very important, as they create a mechanism to bring all parties together and achieve a sense of collective ownership of the final policy. This is crucial in view of the national effort that will later be necessary to implement the policy. The policy process is just as important as the policy document.