National Medicine Policy. (MDS-3: Managing Access to Medicines and Health Technologies, Chapter 4)
(2012; 20 pages)


A national medicine policy (NMP) is a political commitment and a guide for action that shows how the government will ensure that efficacious and safe medicines of good quality are affordable, accessible, and rationally used. The NMP provides a framework for coordinating the activities of all the parties involved, such as the public and private sectors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), donors, and other interested stakeholders; it also defines the role that the public itself should play. The medicine policy of one country may be similar in many ways to the medicine policies of other countries, but because their starting situations will vary, the policies will likely differ in what they emphasize and in how problems can best be tackled. A national government will be the principal agency responsible for creating the overall NMP and putting it into practice; however, collaboration will be needed with prescribers, dispensers, consumers, and those who make, market, distribute, and sell medicines. Sometimes, disagreements among the parties will be unavoidable because their interests differ, but ideally a wide partnership will develop, because an effective medicine policy is ultimately in the best interests of all. This chapter examines the components of an NMP. Countries must choose the elements most relevant to their situation and most realistic, given their available human and financial resources. At the outset, governments will need to give priority to solving current problems, such as a lack of relevant laws and regulations and difficulty in implementing and enforcing laws and regulations that already exist; issues of finance, supply, cost, and pricing; and rational use of medicines. Less pressing matters may be addressed later.

This chapter reviews the main steps in formulating an NMP including -

  • Organizing the process
  • Identifying and analyzing problems
  • Setting goals and objectives
  • Drafting the policy
  • Seeking wide agreement on the policy
  • Obtaining formal endorsement of the policy
  • Launching the policy

Formulating a policy is one thing; putting it into effect is another. No single, best way to implement an NMP exists, but this chapter shares the approaches that some countries have taken.

Experience shows that the essential medicines concept is central to a successful national medicine policy. The core of the concept is using an established list of essential medicines based on standard treatment guidelines, leading to a better supply of medicines, more rational prescribing, and lower costs. Finally, the success of an NMP will depend heavily on political commitment by the government and support from all stakeholders in the pharmaceutical sector.

The WHO Essential Medicines and Health Products Information Portal was designed and is maintained by Human Info NGO. Last updated: December 1, 2019