Priority Life-saving Medicines for Women and Children, 2012. Improving health and saving lives by ensuring access to priority medicines
(2012; 4 pages) [French]


Improving maternal and child health is a global priority. An estimated 7.6 million children under the age of five die every year and an estimated 1 000 women - most of them in developing countries - die every day due to complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Many of these deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable vaccines, contraceptives and medicines. However, the availability of medicines at public-health facilities is often poor.

This list of priority life-saving medicines for women and children was developed by the World Health Organization departments of Essential Medicines and Health Products; Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health; and Reproductive Health and Research, and UNFPA and UNICEF to help countries and partners select and make available those medicines that will have the biggest impact on reducing maternal, newborn and child morbidity and mortality. The medicines on this list were chosen according to

  1. the global burden of disease;
  2. the evidence of efficacy and safety for preventing or treating major causes of sexual and reproductive, maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity.

In addition, medicines were included for palliative care. All of the medicines listed are included in the current versions of the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (EML), the WHO EML for Children (with the exception of dexamethasone and betamethasone) and WHO treatment guidelines. Medicines were selected from the core essential medicines list with one exception, to prioritize those medicines that can be used throughout health care systems.

The Priority medicines for mothers and children 2011 list was updated following the 18th Expert Committee Meeting on Selection and Use of Medicines, the release of new treatment guidelines and feedback from partners following the 2011 version. In alignment with the UN Secretary Generals’ global effort on Women’s health; and the recently launched UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, the title of this updated list is renamed as Priority Life-Saving Medicines for Women and Children.

Updates to the list of priority life-saving medicines for mothers include: the addition of misoprostol for the prevention of post-partum haemorrhage; the additions of hydralazine and methyldopa for the treatment of severe pregnancy-induced hypertension and the removal of the 2-ml vial of magnesium sulfate; the addition of misoprostol and mifepristone for the provision of safe abortion services; the addition of tetanus vaccine for the prevention of tetanus in mothers and children; and the addition of contraceptives. Procaine benzylpenicillin was removed from the list of medicines for treatment of pneumonia in children; higher dosage forms for neonatal sepsis were removed; an explanatory note on the gentamicin formulation was added and a referral to guidance on vaccines was made. The list of priority medicines required for child health and survival, but for which further research and development is needed was removed from this update to reflect the need to advocate separately for these medicines.

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