WHO has published the new edition of its Model List of Essential Medicines which includes “groundbreaking” new treatments for hepatitis C, a variety of cancers (including breast cancer and leukaemia) and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB), among others.
According to the WHO, the move opens the way to improve access to innovative medicines that show clear clinical benefits and could have enormous public health impact globally.
“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,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “Placing them on the WHO Essential Medicines List is a first step in that direction.”
Increasingly, governments and institutions around the world are using the WHO list to guide the development of their own essential medicines lists, because they know that every medicine listed has been vetted for efficacy, safety and quality, and that there has been a comparative cost-effectiveness evaluation with other alternatives in the same class of medicines.
The list is updated every two years by an Expert Committee, made up of recognized specialists from academia, research and the medical and pharmaceutical professions.
This year, the Committee underscored the urgent need to take action to promote equitable access and use of several new highly effective medicines, some of which are currently too costly even for high-income countries.
Dr Stephen Connor, Worldwide Hospice and Palliative Care Alliance Senior Fellow, noted the significance of the inclusion of new medicines for Hepatitis C and cancer, but said: “Five new medicines – direct acting oral antivirals – have recently come on the market transforming chronic hepatitis C from a barely manageable to a curable condition.
“The new medicines have few side effects and high tolerance in patients. All five products, including sofosbuvir and daclatasvir, were included in the List. But high prices currently make them unaffordable and thus inaccessible to most people who need them.”
The list of essential medicines for pain and palliative care has remained unchanged. Dr Connor said: “It is good to see continued support by WHO for palliative care medicines.”