The first Expert Committee, convened in 1977 was called the “WHO Expert Committee on the Selection of Essential Drugs” and its meeting report, The selection of essential drugs. Report of a WHO Expert Committee (11). These names were retained by the Committee at its second meeting in 1979 (12). In 1982, at its third meeting, the Committee changed its name and thereafter was referred to as the “WHO Expert Committee on the Use of Essential Drugs” and its meeting report was called, The use of essential drugs. Report of a WHO Expert Committee (13).
When developing the new procedures for updating and disseminating the Model List during 2001 (see section 3.1), WHO started to use the term “essential medicines” as an alternative to “essential drugs”. The reasons for the change are as follows:
• The term “medicines” is more commonly used to describe pharmaceutical preparations used in clinical health care practice.
• For non-native English speakers, the word “drugs” is frequently associated with narcotic or illicit substances (i.e. hard drugs). Consequently, it is not always clear what is meant by a “national drug policy”.
• In other languages, for example in French and Spanish, this ambiguity does not exist: “médicaments essentials” and “medicamentos esenciales” are already widely accepted official terms.
• 2002 is not only the 25-year anniversary of the Model List but also sees the launch of the WHO Essential Medicines Library; both of these milestones create a timely opportunity to introduce new names.
At its present meeting, the Committee recognized that the main focus of its activities is to advise on the selection of essential medicines. However, selection cannot be separated from use, as evidenced by the development of stronger links with standard clinical guidelines and the creation of the WHO Essential Medicines Library. The Committee also considered that it would be useful for WHO to maintain an expert forum to review recent developments in rational drug use.
In light of the above considerations, the Committee recommended to change its name from the “WHO Expert Committee on the Use of Essential Drugs” to the “WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines”.