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WHO Prioritizes Access to Diabetes and Cancer Treatments in New Essential Medicines Lists

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In its guide released on Friday, the organisation lists new treatments for various cancers and diabetes, medicines they say will help people who want to stop smoking as a predisposing factor for the Non Communicable Diseases NCDs. They also note, the new medicines will treat serious bacterial and fungal infections that tend to resist existing treatments.
WHO headquarters in Geneva
The World Health Organisation -WHO has published a new edition of its model essential medicines list to help countries determine which medicines to guarantee easy access to. The listings aim to address global health priorities, identifying the medicines that provide the greatest benefits, and which should be available and affordable for all.

In its guide released on Friday, the organisation lists new treatments for various cancers and diabetes, medicines they say will help people who want to stop smoking as a predisposing factor for the Non Communicable Diseases NCDs. They also note, the new medicines will treat serious bacterial and fungal infections that tend to resist existing treatments.

“Diabetes is on the rise globally, and rising faster in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a statement. “Too many people who need insulin encounter financial hardship in accessing it or go without it and lose their lives. Including insulin analogues in the Essential Medicines List, coupled with efforts to ensure affordable access to all insulin products and expand the use of biosimilars, is a vital step towards ensuring everyone who needs this life-saving product can access it.”

The organization says they are putting emphasis on older medicines like insulin which was first put on the essential medicines list in 1977 because they are lifesaving and yet continue to be out of reach for many.

WHO notes limited insulin supply and high prices in several low- and middle-income countries are currently a significant barrier to treatment. For example, in Ghana’s capital, Accra, they say the amount of insulin needed for a month would cost a worker the equivalent of 5.5 days of pay per month.

Insulin production is concentrated in a small number of manufacturing facilities and three manufacturers control most of the global market, with the lack of competition resulting in high prices that are prohibitive for many people and health systems.

Now, the new listing includes long-acting insulin analogues; insulin degludec, detemir and glargine to give patients a range of products to choose from depending on what they can afford.

Also, experts say long-acting insulin analogues offer some extra clinical benefits for patients through their prolonged duration of action, which ensures that blood glucose levels can be controlled over longer periods of time without needing a booster dose. They offer particular benefit for patients who experience dangerously low blood glucose levels with human insulin.

Along with the long-acting options, the guide provides a number of human insulin options which they say remain a staple in the treatment of diabetes and access to them must continue to be supported through better availability and affordability.

When it comes to cancer medicines, they added new medicines for prostate cancer, brain tumours in children, leukaemia in addition to medicines to counter the adverse effects of some existing cancer treatments. The statement shows, these medicines were selected because they target specific molecular characteristics of the tumour, some of which offer much better outcomes than “traditional” chemotherapy for many types of cancer.

Apart from diabetes and cancer, the updated lists also have new formulations of medicines for common bacterial infections, hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis, to better meet dosing and administration needs of both children and adults.

An additional 81 antibiotics were classified as Access, Watch or Reserve to support antimicrobial stewardship and surveillance of antibiotic use worldwide.  For Smoking cessation, two medicines, bupropion and varenicline have been provided to help those who want to stop smoking. It’s from the WHO listing that healthcare managers choose what key medicines to provide to their populations depending on the country-specific need.

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