An essential drug list, as defined by the WHO document Indicators for monitoring national drug policies (5) is “a booklet containing all the drugs approved for use in the public sector. In certain cases, there is one booklet, which contains all the drugs agreed for all health care levels. In others, there are lists/booklets by level of use (tertiary, secondary, primary care). The booklet may contain additional information on each of the drugs. In certain countries the essential drug list may also apply to the private sector … the list should be officially approved by the ministry of health, should be written using INN and distributed widely in the public sector. The international nonproprietary name (INN) is the shortened scientific name based on the active ingredient; WHO is responsible for assigning INN to pharmaceutical substances”.
Member States were asked whether herbal medicines are included in the national essential drug list. One hundred and thirty-three countries answered this question, with 22 countries (16%) indicating that herbal medicines are included on the essential drug list (Figure 35). However, Member States were not asked whether they have a national essential drug list at all, therefore some Member States that answered no herbal medicines were included did so because they have no existing national essential drug list for any medicines. Follow up information was requested about the number of herbal medicines included on the list and the year of issue of the essential drug list (Figure 36 and Figure 37).
Figure 35. Herbal medicines included on a national essential drug list
Of the 22 countries reporting the inclusion of herbal medicines on their essential drug list, 18 provided the number of herbal medicines listed (see Figure 35). The majority of countries had listed between one and 10 herbal medicines; however, a number of countries reported including more than 100 medicines. At the extreme end, China reported 1 242 herbal medicines listed on its essential drug list. An average of 165 herbal medicines was listed.
Figure 36. Number of herbal medicines included on essential drug list
Fifteen countries reported the year of issue for the essential drug list; 12 countries provided a copy of the list (Figure 37). The clear trend is for essential drug lists that include herbal medicines to have been issued in the most recent period, from 2000 to 2003. It is not clear, however, whether herbal medicines represent as recent an inclusion as such figures may suggest.
Figure 37. Number of Member States with herbal medicines on essential drug list, by year