• Tasnim Abdi

Essential Medicines


The World Health Organization defines essential medicines as “those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population”. These medicines are classified as essential medicines based on prevalence of the disease that they treat and the cost of production of the medication. In most cases, people cannot afford to buy essential medications, but leaving their diseases untreated can have detrimental affects on a society.

In the developing world, access to essential medicines can determine whether an individual survives a disease. Most medications and treatments do not reach the people who need them most because these people might not be able to afford them or might live in a remote area where they cannot get the medication. This article will focus on the reasons that essential medicines are hard to obtain and examine the solutions for reversing this trend.

Increasing access to essential medicines is considered to be one of the best ways to reduce healthcare costs and provide the quality of treatment to people. Some estimates demonstrate that more than 40 million people will die in developing countries as a result of diseases that could be cured by essential medicines. Around 10 million deaths are related to malaria, tuberculosis, acute respiratory diseases and diarrheal diseases. Children under five make up one-third of these people. All of these diseases have safe and inexpensive treatments. For example, supplements made of iron and folate can help decrease the rate of child and maternal deaths by preventing anemia during pregnancy.

The idea of essential medicines is continuing to evolve in several ways. First, different medicines are being included as essential medicines to reflect trends in global diseases. Also, these medicines are constantly being re-evaluated and improved because they have to be able to deal with rare diseases and the danger of populations growing resistance. Their prevalence also varies widely; in developing countries, spending on medicines can range from 25% to 66% of public and private health spending. This figure decreases to less than 20% in developed countries.

During the last decades, the Model List was developed to help create national and institutional essential medicines lists. It was not meant to be used as a global tool; however most countries have decided to base their systems on it. In theory, each country should to evaluate the use of essential medicines based on the health challenges affecting their population.

Countries should work to improve the access of these medicines in order to decrease the number of deaths related to diseases. There are many benefits to increasing access to essential medicines, especially in developing countries. For example, if more of the population survived preventable diseases, the economy and level of productivity would be stimulated with more people able to participate in the work force. The United Nations tries to cooperate with countries to create programs meant to provide access to essential medicines. When the cost of medicine is reduced to a certain level, people can afford to purchase them and treat diseases.

At McGill, the group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines established a chapter to provide students with opportunities to learn more about essential medicines. The organizers plan events where speakers discuss their projects and growing trends in essential medicine. The group also works with scientists at the university that contributes to the global dialogue about access to and effectiveness of essential medicines.


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