WHO updates Essential Medicines List

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated its Model List of Essential Medicines, which allows more methods of improving treatments for hepatitis C, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB), and a range of cancers including leukemia and breast cancer.

The list includes groundbreaking new treatments for these illnesses, allows better access to novel medicines with good results and may impact public health around the world.

“When new effective medicines emerge to safely treat serious and widespread diseases, it is vital to ensure that everyone who needs them can obtain them,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, said. “Placing them on the WHO Essential Medicines List is a first step in that direction.”

The essential medicines list is updated every two years by a committee of specialists from academia, research, and the medical and pharmaceutical professions.

“The Essential Medicines List includes medicines on the basis of safety and efficacy evidence, not on the basis of approved indications within national jurisdictions or availability of licensed alternatives,” Dr. Kees De Joncheere, WHO director of Essential Medicines, said. “For example, when it reviewed the application to include ranibizumab to treat severe eye diseases such as macular degeneration, the committee looked at the evidence base and the price difference with bevacizumab – the medicine currently listed. The committee agreed to maintain bevacizumab as the preferred medicine, rejecting the ranibizumab application. ”

A number governments and institutions use the WHO list to help them develop their own essential medicines list. 

“It is important to understand that the Essential Medicines List is the starting block and not the finishing line,” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general for Health Systems and Innovation, said. “Its purpose is to provide guidance for the prioritization of medicines from a clinical and public health perspective. The hard work begins with efforts to ensure that those medicines are actually available to patients.”

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