In the broadest sense a national drug policy should promote equity and sustainability of the pharmaceutical sector. The general objectives of a national drug policy are to ensure:
• Access: equitable availability and affordability of essential medicines, including traditional medicine;
• Quality: the quality, safety and efficacy of all medicines;
• Rational use: the promotion of therapeutically sound and cost-effective use of medicines by health professionals and consumers.
Figure 1 By the end of 1999 over 100 countries had a national drug policy
The more specific goals and objectives of a national policy will depend upon the country situation, the national health policy and political priorities set by the government. In addition to health-related goals there may be others, such as economic goals. For example, an additional objective may be to increase national pharmaceutical production capacity. It is critical that all the drug policy objectives are explicit, so that the roles of the public and private sectors and of the various ministries (health, finance, trade and industry) and government bodies (such as the drug regulatory authority) can be specified.
A drug policy can have a rapidly noticeable impact. For example, Chad adopted its drug policy and developed an implementation plan in 1995. Based on the results of the baseline survey carried out at that time, the national drug policy and its implementation plan focused on two strategies to improve access to essential medicines: (1) appropriate selection and use of generic drugs, and (2) improved drug procurement and management through training, central medical store, and regional bulk procurement. In six years, the policy has had a significant impact (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Impact of national drug policy in Chad, 1995-2001