Dr Ernst Lauridsen started his career as a medical doctor with the Danish Red Cross in Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Based on his experience with emergency medical supplies, he was invited in 1982 to start the new WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs. In view of the sensitivities with several member states and the pharmaceutical industry, the Action Programme was set up as a special unit in the office of the Director-General, Dr Mahler (where it stayed until 1989).
Under Dr Lauridsen' leadership the programme attracted a number of committed pharmacists and doctors in Geneva and several WHO regional offices; supported and expanded the system of drug ration kits for rural hospitals and clinics in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen; and introduced the concept of essential medicines and of national drug policies as a mechanism to bring stakeholders together and cement government commitment. In 1989 he left WHO and worked for many years as an independent consultant for DANIDA and for the World Bank.