Male, Maldives, 9 September 2017 – The World Health Organization today called on countries across the South-East Asia Region to take bold action to ensure all people everywhere have access to safe, efficacious, quality and affordable medical products, laying particular emphasis on the need to leverage collective strengths via greater intercountry cooperation.
“Overcoming barriers and ensuring all people everywhere can access essential medicines is one of WHO South-East Asia’s priority areas of work, and is vital to achieving universal health coverage, and with it the Sustainable Development Goal of health and wellbeing for all. Significant progress has been made in recent years, including the creation of the South-East Asia Regulatory Network (SEARN) in 2016, which pools the Region’s regulatory resources to enhance the safety and quality of medicines. We need to build on that progress and strengthen regional cooperation in a range of areas to further address this critical issue,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said.
Across the South-East Asia Region, an estimated 65 million people are pushed into poverty due to out-of-pocket health-care payments, with the cost of medicines being one of the main causes. Poor-quality or unsafe medicines likewise affects peoples’ ability to access the treatment they need, when they need it, while weak supply chains and inefficient procurement provide similar barriers.
Dr Khetrapal Singh outlined five key areas where countries can work together, and with WHO, to drive substantial gains in access to medicines across the Region.
“First, intercountry and regional collaboration on public procurement and pricing can be scaled up, including through sharing information on medicines prices. This will enhance countries’ negotiating positions when they are purchasing on the international market,” she said.
Second, the Regional Director emphasized, is the need to fully operationalize the SEARN initiative and take advantage of comparative strengths in regulatory capacity.
“Third, there is great potential for increased use of regionally produced, quality generic products,” the Regional Director stressed. “There is likewise a pressing need to take advantage of TRIPS flexibilities and other opportunities in intellectual property and trade rules.”
Fourth, Dr Khetrapal Singh noted that rational use of medicines – especially antimicrobials – is vitally important Region-wide to ensure these drugs remain fit for purpose. She urged countries to improve antimicrobial stewardship by applying the ACCESS, WATCH and RESERVE system outlined in WHO’s recently published Essential Medicines List.
Fifth, the Regional Director said, “There is an urgent need for improved data on trends in access to medicines. Good data enable decision-makers to know how many people cannot access the medicines they need and where medicines are not available; whether unsafe or ineffective products are on sale, and the scale of misuse or wastage of medicines.”
The Regional Director affirmed WHO’s ongoing support to countries as they strive to enhance access to medicines, which is a key agenda item at the Seventieth session of the Regional Committee, which is currently being held in Maldives. The Regional Committee is the highest decision-making body for public health in the South-East Asia Region, and includes health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the Region’s 11 Member countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.