EB109/8 - Revised procedure for updating WHO’s Model List of Essential Drugs - Report by the Secretariat. WHO medicines strategy. Executive Board, 109th Session, 7 December 2001 (Chinese version)
(2001; 12 pages) [Arabic] [English] [French] [Russian] [Spanish]


Every two years since 1977 the Model List has been updated by the WHO Expert Committee on the Use of Essential Drugs. The current Model List (November 1999) lists 306 active ingredients, of which 250 are included in WHO clinical guidelines. Among the 306 active ingredients are vaccines, contraceptives, preventive agents such as insect repellents and some diagnostic agents.

At its meeting in 1999, the Expert Committee proposed that the methods for updating and disseminating the Model List be revised because of

  1. advances in the science of evidence-based decision-making;
  2. the increasing link between essential medicines and guidelines for clinical health care; and
  3. the high cost of many new and effective medicines.

The Expert Committee concluded that current procedures do not define the range of conditions covered with adequate specificity, nor are the reasons for inclusion recorded with sufficient clarity.

A new procedure for updating and disseminating the Model List has been developed. Major features of the new procedure include:

  1. use of the term “essential medicines” as an alternative to “essential drugs” with immediate effect, reflecting the common use of the term “medicines” to describe pharmaceutical preparations used in clinical health care practice;
  2. a more systematic approach to encouraging and handling applications for medicines to be included in or deleted from the Model List;
  3. a more transparent process for selecting medicines to be included in the list, including systematic analysis of medicines proposed for use in the care of different health conditions (comparing efficacy, safety and, where possible and appropriate, cost-effectiveness);
  4. opportunities for interested parties to comment on both an application and the draft recommendations of the Expert Committee;
  5. the full involvement of different WHO departments in the application and selection process, linking the process to clinical guidelines disseminated by WHO;
  6. development of a new WHO essential medicines library which facilitates access to information about medicines on the Model List; and
  7. steps to ensure that the Expert Committee operates with full scientific independence as it makes its final recommendations (in line with current practice for decisions on regulatory approval, procurement, and reimbursement within Member States).
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