Essential medicines and health products

Kees De Joncheere retires from EMP Director post

Kees de Joncheere retired as Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products, WHO, on 30 April 2016. Starting in North Yemen in 1981, Kees’s WHO career took him from Panama to Costa Rica, from Brazil to Denmark (where WHO’s Regional Office for Europe is located), to Ukraine and finally to headquarters in Geneva. Kees oversaw the merging of the EMP Department’s four product streams: medicines, vaccines, medical devices and diagnostics.

Pioneering methadone programme gives hope to thousands in Dar es Salaam

WHO/A. Pritz
Nurse measuring methadone dose at Mwananyamala District Hospital

In a discreet corner of the Mwananyamala District Hospital grounds, in Dar es Salaam, a group of young people queue up outside a small window to get their daily fix of methadone. Others are taking refuge from the intense heat in the few shady spots available in the dusty yard behind the low building housing the methadone clinic. There are few women to be seen but that, as explained by Dr Pilly Sahid Mutoka, the Assistant Medical Officer at the clinic, is because women drug users suffer greater stigma than men and are less comfortable about declaring their drug problem.

Surveying insulin availability and pricing: vital to treating diabetes

Collecting data on the availability and price of medicines is a crucial step in improving access to diabetes medicines like insulin, which is vital for the survival of people with Type 1 diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes has been steadily increasing for the past three decades and is growing most rapidly in low- and middle-income countries. The percentage of deaths attributable to high blood glucose or diabetes is almost 52% in low-income countries, compared with 23% in high-income countries.

WHO finalises list of assistive products

A consultation on 21-22 March saw consensus reached on the top 50 products to be included in WHO’s Priority Assistive Products List. Essential products such as wheelchairs, spectacles, hearing aids, artificial limbs, communication and memory aids are amongst the products listed. Today, only 1 in 10 people globally have access to these products.


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Many countries do not have sufficient access to essential medicines used in areas such as pain management, mental health treatment and substitution therapy for drug dependence due to international regulation of controlled substances. For instance, methadone, proven to help reduce dependency on heroin, is available to fewer than 10% of those in need of treatment. Today, more than 5 billion people don’t have adequate access to pain relief medicines. WHO is committed to ensuring that public health does not suffer at the expense of over-regulation and stigma. At the recent Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in Vienna, Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant-Director General for Health Systems and Innovation, emphasized that WHO is working towards an “integrated and balanced strategy to reduce illicit drug use and increase medical use of controlled substances”. WHO is actively engaging in a series of activities in view of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem in April (UNGASS 2016).

Since the turn of the century greater importance has been placed on access to medical products, resulting in many more people tested and treated for priority diseases – i.e. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – and maternal and child conditions. But much remains to be done to ensure all health systems can deliver on the full range of essential medical products needed by communities, and to address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.

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