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WHO releases first global reference guide on safe and effective use of essential medicines

Guide Promotes Consumer Rights and Patient Safety

In its efforts to promote safe and cost-effective use of medicines, the World Health Organization (WHO) today releases the first edition of the WHO Model Formulary. The formulary is the first ever publication to give comprehensive information on all 325 medicines contained in the WHO Model List of Essential Drugs. It presents information on the recommended use, dosage, adverse effects, contra-indications and warnings of these medicines. Correct use of this tool will improve patient safety and limit superfluous medical spending.

Bad prescribing habits are very common in all countries of the world. They lead to ineffective and unsafe treatment, exacerbation or prolongation of illness and harm to the patient. In addition, inappropriate treatment increases the costs to the patient, the insurance system or the government.

The new formulary is primarily intended as a model for national governments and institutions, to be used as a basis for developing their own national formularies. It is particularly relevant for developing countries, where commercial and promotional materials are often the only available source of drug information to health workers, prescribers and patients. The WHO formulary may also be useful for individual prescribers – and for this reason it is available at reduced cost for developing countries.

"Unfortunately, developing countries do not always have access to unbiased information about medicines,” explains Dr Hans Hogerzeil, from the Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy department at WHO. “The formulary aims to address that problem and provide a service based solely on scientific evidence.”

It is estimated that only two-thirds of developing country populations have some form of access to essential medicines. For those countries, pharmaceuticals can represent as much as 40% of the health care budget. Because of its considerable impact on the quality of care and the cost of treatment, the selection of essential medicines and their appropriate use constitute the most effective approach to improving equitable access to health care.

This principle also applies to industrialized countries, where questions of medical insurance coverage are always important concerns for the public and central to policy debates.

The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, recently updated to include 12 essential antiretroviral medicines for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, is compiled to focus pharmaceutical efforts on priority conditions and quality medicines that are the most cost-effective and safe, and as affordable as possible. For instance, the vast majority of medicines contained in the WHO Model List are well-known and well-established pharmaceuticals which are off patent and available from many sources.

To make access to information as wide as possible, the WHO Model Formulary will be available on the internet at the following address: A CD-ROM version is in preparation.

For more information contact:

Dr Hans Hogerzeil
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 3528
Mobile phone: (+41) 79 249 35 09