The Mexican National Drug Policy was triggered by the 1982 economic crisis which resulted in an acute shortage of many essential goods, including medicinal drugs. However, government action in this area was not new in 1982 but had been developing over the decades. As far back as 1958, the Mexican Institute for Social Security had selected a list of important drugs to be used in its facilities; and in the 1960s and 1970s, the Ministry of Health had developed a formulary, encouraged the work of the national pharmaceutical industry and created a unified procurement system. But the economic crisis in the early 1980s forced the government to enact a more comprehensive policy. The aims of this policy were threefold: to secure access to good-quality essential drugs for the population, both in the public and private sector; to support the development of the national pharmaceutical industry in order to decrease dependence on the transnationals; and to promote the rational use of drugs.
Although most of the ingredients in a healthy medicinal drug policy were in place, except possibly the necessary involvement of all actors in the "pharmaceutical chain" and particularly the consumers, the time allowed for its implementation was too short; its effects, therefore, were limited. The reason for this was that towards the end of the 1980s the Mexican government decided on a drastic change in economic policy, abandoning a closed and protectionist model in favour of maximum integration in the global economy. This involved, inter alia, the rapid privatisation of state-owned industries and services, reductions in government administration, and the promotion of foreign investment. For the government, the main instrument for this policy was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Treaty became operational on January 1, 1994. It is evident that NAFTA created a completely new situation in Mexican society and that since the agreement came into force, many contradictions have developed, political, social and economic. Since health was not explicitly dealt with in the NAFTA negotiations, it is still too early to say how much the National Drug Policy will be affected and what can be saved of its original intentions. What is necessary, however, is that the new administration under President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon takes a firm initiative in the field of health and pharmaceutical policies to remove the widespread uncertainty that prevails. This highly interesting development is thoroughly discussed in the contribution
by Nadine Gasman. She is a Mexican with a doctorate in Public Health, specialising in health policy and management. She has worked at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico as a researcher and professor, and as a consultant/or WHO, PAHO and several national development agencies. She has coordinated the pharmaceuticals programme in Nicaragua and is at present the Director General of the Latin American Health Group (GLAS).