10 facts on essential medicines

February 2010

An open hand holding a variety of pills

The essential medicines list is an inventory of medicines that treat pressing global health concerns. Medicines are identified through an evidence-based process and quality, safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness are key selection criteria. A model list - first assembled by a World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel in 1977 and revised every two years to reflect current health challenges - gives Member Countries an example to adapt to national needs.

In 1977 the first list identified 208 essential medicines to battle the global disease burden at the time. Today's list of 340 medicines treats such priority conditions as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, reproductive health and, increasingly, chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

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