Despite some progress, serious problems with medicine quality and safety persist in many low- and middle-income countries. At their most benign, poor quality medicines have no treatment effect, and at their worst cause human disasters. For instance, over 120,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have died in 2013 because of substandard antimalarial medicines.
Strong global and national leadership is needed as lack of access to essential medicines threatens progress towards universal health coverage.
The cost of providing a basic set of 201 essential medicines to all people in low- and middle-income countries could be as little as US$1-2 per person per month (US$13-25 per person per year), according to the first analysis of the cost of providing a basket of essential medicines by The Lancet Commission on Essential Medicines.
However, one in five countries worldwide spend less than this per person per year on medicines, demonstrating the urgent need for additional financing to meet basic health care needs. At the same time, the world as a whole spends at least 8 times this amount on medicines, highlighting massive inequities and inefficiencies in financing and governance that restrict access to medicines for many people worldwide.
Essential medicines are defined as a core set of medicines to meet the priority health needs of populations, and include analgesics such as morphine, tuberculosis, HIV or malaria drugs, medicines for chronic diseases such as insulin or cancer medicines as well as vaccines and contraceptives. The Commission argues that access to affordable and quality-assured essential medicines is central to the Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving universal health coverage by 2030, and that strong government and international leadership is needed to effectively implement essential medicines policies and create accountability.
The Commission brings together a group of 21 international experts and makes recommendations to governments, civil society, national health institutions, national medicines regulatory agencies, and the pharmaceutical industry. The report will be launched in London on 8th November.
“Countries around the world, regardless of income level, face enormous challenges ensuring equitable access to affordable, quality-assured essential medicines,” says co-chair of the Commission Andy Gray, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. “Recent examples such as the EpiPen scandal in the USA, the high cost of Hepatitis C drugs or the failure to develop new antibiotics to treat resistant infections demonstrate that access to safe, quality and affordable medicines is a global issue, at the heart of advancing access to universal health coverage.”