Essential medicines have been defined by World Health Organization (WHO) as “those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population”. These medicines are selected with regard to public health relevance, evidence on efficacy and safety, and comparative cost-effectiveness, Careful and prudent selection of limited range of essential medicines help in higher quality of care, better drug management, value added supply chain, rational use, availability and cost effectiveness of health resources.
This list has been approved and published and is aligned with the main objectives of the National Drug Policy 1995 i.e., to ensure the availability and affordability of efficacious, safe and good quality medicines relevant to the quality healthcare needs and service of the people in a sustainable and equitable manner and to promote the rational use of medicines by healthcare professionals and consumers.
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Introduction: Access to essential medicines is a fundamental human right, as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Essential medicines are a core component of any effective healthcare system, ensuring that the population receives the necessary treatments for prevalent health conditions. This comprehensive review explores the significance and impact of essential medicines, considering their selection, role in healthcare quality improvement, drug management, supply chain optimization, rational use, and their alignment with national drug policies.
1. Definition and Selection of Essential Medicines: The WHO defines essential medicines as those satisfying the priority healthcare needs of the population. Their selection process considers public health relevance, evidence of efficacy and safety, and comparative cost-effectiveness. By identifying essential medicines, countries can create a standardized and efficient list of medications that should be made available to all citizens, regardless of economic status.
2. Essential Medicines and Healthcare Quality Improvement: A carefully chosen list of essential medicines contributes to improved healthcare quality. By focusing on medications with proven effectiveness, patients are more likely to receive appropriate treatment. This enhances treatment outcomes, reduces adverse effects, and minimizes the risk of resistance to antimicrobial drugs. Moreover, essential medicines help healthcare professionals to follow standardized treatment guidelines, leading to more consistent and evidence-based care.
3. Drug Management and Essential Medicines: Efficient drug management is essential for healthcare systems to function effectively. The use of essential medicines streamlines inventory management, ensuring that necessary drugs are readily available while minimizing wastage. By reducing the number of medications to manage, healthcare facilities can better allocate resources and staff time, leading to cost savings.
4. Supply Chain Optimization: The availability and accessibility of essential medicines depend on a well-functioning supply chain. A focused approach on essential medicines allows for optimized supply chain management. Centralized procurement and distribution can be employed to ensure consistent availability in both urban and remote areas. This helps prevent stockouts and ensures that patients receive their prescribed medications when needed.
5. Rational Use of Medicines: Rational use of medicines refers to prescribing and using medications based on evidence-based guidelines, taking into account the individual patient’s needs. Essential medicines promote rational use by encouraging healthcare professionals to prescribe medications that have proven efficacy and safety. It discourages the use of unnecessary or ineffective treatments, reducing the risk of adverse effects and unnecessary healthcare costs.
6. Essential Medicines and Affordability: The affordability of essential medicines is a crucial aspect of their selection and distribution. By focusing on cost-effectiveness, essential medicines can be chosen to provide maximum health impact while remaining affordable for the healthcare system and patients. This helps to ensure equitable access to healthcare and reduces financial barriers for vulnerable populations.
7. Alignment with National Drug Policies: The selection of essential medicines aligns with the main objectives of the National Drug Policy. These policies aim to ensure the availability and affordability of efficacious, safe, and high-quality medicines relevant to the population’s healthcare needs. By incorporating essential medicines into national drug policies, countries can foster a sustainable and equitable healthcare system that caters to the diverse needs of their citizens.
8. Challenges and Implementation: While essential medicines play a critical role in healthcare improvement, their successful implementation faces various challenges. These may include resistance to change among healthcare professionals, regulatory hurdles in drug selection and procurement, insufficient funding for drug procurement, and the need for continuous updates of the essential medicines list to address emerging health threats.
9. Case Studies and Success Stories: Several countries have successfully implemented essential medicines lists in their healthcare systems, resulting in improved healthcare access and quality. Case studies from countries with different socio-economic backgrounds can highlight the adaptability and effectiveness of essential medicines in diverse settings.
Conclusion: Essential medicines, as defined by the WHO, are a cornerstone of an efficient and equitable healthcare system. Their selection based on evidence of efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness ensures that patients receive the best available treatments. By promoting rational use, streamlining drug management, and optimizing supply chains, essential medicines contribute to higher quality healthcare, improved patient outcomes, and greater affordability of medicines. Aligning essential medicines with national drug policies enhances the overall sustainability and effectiveness of healthcare systems, ultimately leading to better health outcomes for populations worldwide. However, successful implementation requires addressing various challenges and continuous evaluation to adapt to changing healthcare needs. Nevertheless, the integration of essential medicines into healthcare systems is a crucial step towards achieving universal access to quality healthcare.