Hepatitis treatment debuts on WHO Model Essential Medicines List

July 2013

Good news has emerged for the 150 million people worldwide who have hepatitis C – a lifelong condition that is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person and can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.

For the first time, the WHO’s Model Essential Medicines List – a globally agreed list that helps individual nations identify priority medicines for their citizens – now includes pegylated interferon. The application to include interferon notes that a combination of interferon alfa 2a or 2b and ribavirin is the current first line and only commercially available treatment for hepatitis C. Without treatment, the virus kills more than 350 000 people every year. However, treatment with the two drugs can reverse liver injury and prevent these serious consequences.

The 2013 edition of the WHO list (it is updated and issued every two years), provides an internationally recognizable set of safe, cost-effective medicines to help countries choose how to treat their most critical health needs.

The importance of the Model Essential Medicines List

The Model Essential Medicines List serves as a cornerstone for countries to develop their own national Essential Medicines Lists. It can assist national decision-makers in reducing costs by helping them identify priority medicines to meet their country’s health needs. Conversely, removal from the list can send a clear signal that a product is no longer appropriate. In high-income settings, the list helps to provide insurance companies with a neutral, gold-standard list for reimbursement in countries that have their own National Reimbursement Medicines List.

Guidance is issued in 30 categories. The newly-issued report contains 29 of the categories analyzed, and an additional category will be made available in the third quarter of 2013, with the final report. Changes to the list over the years have reflected evolving public health challenges – adding in, for example, antiretroviral medicines for HIV and formulations to treat noncommunicable diseases.

How the Essential Medicines List Expert Committee works

The Essential Medicines List Expert Committee meets every two years to update the Model List, using a transparent process, including an open comment period. Any entity may propose an addition – including individuals, governments, pharmaceutical companies, or medical associations and they must provide evidence of the proposed drug’s safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness. They also need to show that the medicine is both essential to meeting priority health-care needs and available in adequate amounts.

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