Millions of children and adults still die each year from easily treatable
diseases. WHO’s mission in essential drugs is to close this gap between potential and reality, by assisting
countries to ensure equity of access to essential drugs, rational use of drugs, and drug quality. The
essential drugs concept is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. It is evidence based, aiming at the best balance
between efficacy, safety quality and cost; it promotes efficiency by careful management of resources; it
is globally applicable, from small rural clinics to large teaching hospitals; and it is forward looking
through regularly updated drug selections.
Since 1972, when IDA was founded, considerable progress has been made.
National drug policies now guide development in numerous countries; the essential drugs concept is
widely accepted, even in developed countries such as Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United
States; undergraduate, clinical and in-service training are improving; and access to independent
therapeutic information is increasing.
All the same, global changes pose new challenges and uncertainties. Health
sector reform leads to changes in health care financing and drug supply systems; emerging diseases,
ageing populations and growing drug resistance result in new and more expensive drug needs; and global
trade agreements, industrial restructuring and the shift from prescription to over-the-counter drugs are
leading to considerable changes in the pharmaceutical industry. In response to these challenges, the WHO
Department of Essential Drugs and Other Medicines (EDM) has identified six areas for policy and