Essential medicines and health products

Margaretha Helling-Borda


Margaretha Helling-Borda is a pharmacist from Sweden with postgraduate specialization in public health (University of Toronto) and executive management (MIT, Boston). Since her retirement from the WHO as Director of the Action Programme on Essential Medicines in 1996, she has been an independent consultant in pharmaceutical polices, public health and management. Ms Helling-Borda was born and raised in Sweden, worked a few years in pharmacies and in the pharmaceutical industry (sales and regulatory control) in Sweden, and in the US in the industry for 7 years,- in quality control and assurance, clinical trials, research, and clinical pharmacology.

In 1968, she joined WHO in the WHO Research Project for International Monitoring of Adverse Reactions to drugs, created after the thalidomide disaster. In 1971 she moved with the Project from the US to WHO Headquarter, Geneva.

From 1976 onwards her focus was on support to developing countries to improve access to essential medicines (EM), developing, implementing and evaluating national medicines policies (NMP).

Ms Helling-Borda was a member of the Secretariat of the First Expert Committee on the Selection of Essential Drugs in 1977 and prepared much of the background material for this meeting, as well as WHO country support methodology in start-up missions to South East Asia. In 1981, when the WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs (DAP) started, she became responsible for direct country support, a priority, and the development of methodologies and tools for this area of work. Examples are “Estimating Drug Requirements” and “Guidelines for Developing National Drug Polices” published in 1988. In 1995, she was secretary for the first WHO Expert Committee on National Drug Policies.

She has worked in essential medicines and NMP programme development and evaluations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Pacific Islands, Europe and Australia –totaling more than 70 countries. Data on this work is registered and retrievable in the WHO Essential Medicines Programme technical documentation system. For the future, a few examples or prototypes may be particularly helpful and illustrative: Bhutan Essential Drugs Programme, a case study; Lao National Drug Policy Programme, an evaluation; the Regional Strategy (RS) for Improving Access to Essential Medicines in the Western Pacific Region, 2005-2010 and its follow-up Framework for 2011 – 2016.

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Key documents of historical value: