Twenty-Five Years of Essential Medicines
(2002; 2 pages)


In 1975 the World Health Assembly introduced the concepts of "essential drugs" and "national drug policy", and they quickly became part of the global public health vocabulary. The Health Assembly was building on precedents set in Scandinavia, North America and some pioneering developing countries, such as Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sri Lanka, and the United Republic of Tanzania, in the hope that they would provide a way to begin closing the huge gap between those who were benefiing from the pharmaceutical harvest of the mid-1900s and those who were not. In October 1977,WHOproduced the first Model List of Essential Drugs and in 1978 the Declaration of Alma-Ata identified "provision of essential drugs" as one of the eight elements of primary health care. According to the current WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines, "Essential medicines are those that satisfy the priority health needs of the population. They are selected with due regard to disease prevalence, evidence of efficacy and safety, and comparative cost-effectiveness. Essential medicines are intended to be available within the context of functioning health systems at all times in adequate amounts, in the appropriate dosage forms, with assured quality, and at a price the individual and the community can afford. The implementation of the concept of essential medicines is intended to be flexible and adaptable to many different situations; exactly which medicines are regarded as essential remains a national responsibility." Thanks partly to the recognition and application of these principles, the situation has changed enormously since 1977...

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