WHO Essential Medicine List Update 2017

Biggest Change in 40 years on Use of Antibiotics

The WHO Model list of essential medicines was launched in 1977, coinciding with the endorsement by governments at the World Health Assembly of “Health for all” as the guiding principle for WHO and countries’ health policies. The WHO Essential Medicines List (EML) is used by many countries to increase access to medicines and guide decisions about which products they ensure are available for their populations.

In the biggest revision of the antibiotics section in the EML’s 40-year history, WHO experts have grouped antibiotics into three categories –

ACCESS — Available at all times as treatments for a wide range of common infections.

WATCH — Antibiotics that are recommended as first- or second-choice treatments for a small number of infections.

RESERVE — Should be considered last-resort options, when all other alternatives have failed.

Initially, the new categories apply only to antibiotics used to treat 21 of the most common general infections. If shown to be useful, it could be broadened in future versions of the EML to apply to drugs to treat other infections.

The categorization of antibiotics should enhance treatment outcomes, reduce the development of drug-resistant bacteria, and preserve the effectiveness of “last resort” antibiotics.

The change aims to ensure that antibiotics are available when needed, and that the right antibiotics are prescribed for the right infections.These changes support WHO’s Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance, which aims to fight the development of drug resistance by ensuring the best use of antibiotics.

The rise in antibiotic resistance stems from how medicines are misused. The new WHO list should help health system planners and prescribers ensure people who need antibiotics have access to them, and ensure they get the right one, so that the problem of resistance doesn’t get worse.