Essential medicines are those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population. They are selected with due regard to public health relevance, evidence on efficacy and safety and comparative cost effectiveness. Essential medicines are intended to be available within the context of functioning health systems at all times in adequate amounts, in the appropriate dosage forms, with assured quality and adequate information, and at a price the individual and the community can afford. The implementation of the concept of essential medicines is intended to be flexible and adaptable to many different situations; exactly which medicines are regarded as essential remains a national responsibility.
The concept of essential medicines is that a limited number of carefully selected medicines based on agreed clinical guidelines leads to a more rational prescribing, to better supply of drugs and lower costs.
The practical implication of the essential medicines concept is that national essential medicines lists and national drug formularies, together with clinical guidelines, should serve as a basis of formal education and in-service training of health professionals, and of public education about drug use. They should also serve as the main basis for public sector drug procurement and distribution, as well as for drug donations.
Essential medicines lists and teaching about the benefits of drug selection could also be used to influence practice in the private sector, for example through the basic training of medical students, and programs of continuing medical education with universities and professional associations.
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