40th anniversary of essential medicine: A loud call for improving its access

Category: Perspective
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Author byline as per print journal: Mohammad Bashaar, Professor Mohamed Azmi Hassali, Fahad Saleem, Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar

The soaring costs of medicine are a global dilemma. It was hoped that the concept of essential medicine would help countries and policy makers contain the climbing costs of medicine over the last 40 years. This concept was conceived to help control the cost of essential medicines, making them more accessible to patients. The aim of this discussion paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the essential medicines concept and a brief overview of the origin, evolution and current status of access to essential medicines. It charts the positive aspects of the essential medicine concept from its inception, to now. The concept has made great progress; however, the situation is still complex and there are challenges related to access, unequal distribution, high prices, low quality of medicines and additional hidden issues. This paper also looks at the barriers to access to medicine, implications of a “lack of access to medicine”, and the economic burden of medicine costs for patients and national health services. To better ensure that everyone has full access to medicine, policy suggestions have been made which need attention from state and non-state actors. Gaining full access to medicines means there are more treatment options and health shocks can be prevented. Lessons learnt over the last forty years are critical if we are to reach the goal of “health for all”. Issues preventing access to medicine need to be explored, understood and addressed to ensure all on earth have access to this basic human right.

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