Access to medicines: making market forces serve the poor

Nearly 2 billion people have no access to basic medicines, causing a cascade of preventable misery and suffering. Since the landmark agreement on the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, WHO and its partners have launched a number of initiatives that are making market forces serve the poor. The WHO prequalification programme is now firmly established as a mechanism for improving access to safe, effective and quality-assured products.

A customer buying medicines
WHO

Access to medicines

WHO has struggled to improve access to medicines throughout its nearly 70-year history, and rightly so. Good health is impossible without access to pharmaceutical products. Universal health coverage depends on the availability of quality-assured affordable health technologies in sufficient quantities.

Lack of access to medicines causes a cascade of misery and suffering, from no relief for the excruciating pain of a child’s earache, to women who bleed to death during childbirth, to deaths from diseases that are easily and inexpensively prevented or cured. Lack of access to medicines is one inequality that can be measured by a starkly visible yardstick: numbers of preventable deaths.

"An estimated 2 billion people have no access to essential medicines, effectively shutting them off from the benefits of advances in modern science and medicine."

Dr Chan, WHO Director-General

Efforts to improve access to medicines are driven by a compelling ethical imperative. People should not be denied access to life-saving or health-promoting interventions for unfair reasons, including those with economic or social causes.

Millions of yearly childhood deaths from diseases that could have been prevented or cured by existing medical products would be unthinkable in a fair and just world.

The world is neither. An estimated two billion people have no access to essential medicines, effectively shutting them off from the benefits of advances in modern science and medicine.