Essential medicines and health products

WHO-Health Action International (HAI) regional collaboration for Action on Essential Medicines in Africa

WHO and HAI Africa have joined forces to achieve the shared goal of improved access to and appropriate use of safe and effective essential medicines throughout Africa; but particularly among the most resource-restricted communities. The program, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), has reached 15 countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In three countries (Ghana, Kenya and Uganda), an even closer collaboration with civil society has been implemented.

The program uses a model of cross-sector partnership building to make progress in the five areas that are vital for securing safe and accessible medicines: implementation and monitoring of medicines policies; advocacy for fair financing and affordability; well-functioning medicine supply systems; safety regulations and quality assurance; and promoting rational use of medicines. In addition to supporting country policies and programmes, increasing the mutual engagement of government and civil society, the collaboration has also created a network of National Professional Officers (NPOs) who provide technical support and pharmaceutical expertise in each of the 15 countries.

Evaluation of the Programme

A comprehensive evaluation conducted by the DFID Health Resource Centre in 2009 found that the collaboration overall has had a profound impact on the tools and resources leveraged by participant countries to enhance regulatory and monitoring capabilities in the pharmaceutical sector. Of particular note is the finding that the program has been a crucial catalyst in bringing about a paradigmatic shift among participant ministries of health, who have recognized that an essential medicines policy is a crucial part of systems strengthening strategies, and have also begun to see the tremendous value in leveraging civil society to support the policy making process with evidence based research and lobbying.

Several other achievements of this country-focused Collaboration were highlighted by the report:

  • Increased profile for essential medicines concept.
  • Collection of robust data and promotion of evidence based medicine policy.
  • Production of a range of policy outputs, including new national medicines policies, updated essential medicines lists and standard treatment guidelines.
  • Building sustainable institutional capacity for the regulatory, procurement and supply system. For example, the performance of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Tanzania has greatly improved over the period and it is now recognized as one of best agencies in the region.
  • NPOs have helped national programme officers to make the most of available funds and to achieve more and more rapidly.
  • Improved co-ordination among government programmes, development partners and civil society. In some countries, the NPO have supported the establishment of pharmaceutical working groups under the sector wide approach.
  • Support for and inclusion of a credible civil society voice.
  • Enhanced regional linkages. The African NPOs operate as a network. This enhances sharing of best practices and facilitates inter-country initiatives, like the work on pricing policies in the Eastern Africa Community (EAC).