Some drugs are more essential than others

BANGLADESH'S national drug policy is based on the essential drugs concept propounded by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It says that drugs that satisfy the health needs of the majority of the population should be available at affordable prices at all times in the right dosage.

Since 1977, WHO has published an Essential Drugs list every two years listing the names of more than 250 drugs, to serve as a guide for countries developing their own national lists.

To ensure equitable access to medicines and to meet public health needs, priority has to be given to the production and proper use of essential drugs. However, all priorities involve political decisions. Commercial promotion pays little attention to the varying health needs and priorities of individual countries. By focussing on essential drugs, the message conveyed is that not all drugs are essential -- a stark contrast to the promotional hype of pharmaceutical companies.

Tension between health needs and business needs is evident in every country. In today's global marketplace, the talk of free markets has often tilted the balance towards business interests. It has also helped health ministries to argue that concentrating scarce resources on essential drugs makes economic as well as therapeutic sense.

And, as the Bangladesh experience has demonstrated, making and selling essential drugs is good business and good health.