World churches' body seeks end to wasteful medicine use

By staff writers
16 May 2007

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has welcomed and given its backing to a resolution on rational use of medicines to be considered by the 60th World Health Assembly taking place in Geneva 14-23 May 2007.

"It is of paramount importance that civil society and faith communities promote the concept of rational use of medicines and demand its application for the benefit of all," says Dr Manoj Kurian, WCC programme executive for health and healing. According to Kurian, who is a medical doctor, "Only this can counter the current trend of a pharmaceutical industry driven by market forces rather than by the needs of the majority."

The annual global market of medicines is above US $550 billion and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than half the medicines used in developing countries and those with economies in transition, and a substantial proportion of medicines, particularly antibiotics, in developed countries are used inappropriately.

According to some estimates, almost nine out of every ten dollars spent in Africa on medicines are lost due to poor management and poor patient compliance. "It is a scandal that billions of dollars are blown away through the window while easy mechanisms to prevent that from happening are known," says Albert Petersen, chair of the board of the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network (EPN).

The irrational use of medicines leads to poor results and can harm patients. In particular, antimicrobial resistance due to inappropriate overuse of antibiotics is increasing dramatically worldwide, causing significant morbidity and mortality, and thus becoming a threat to global health security.

According to the WHO, medicines are rationally employed when they are used in a therapeutically sound and cost-effective way by health professionals and consumers in order to maximize their potential in health care. This includes the elimination of over-use, under-use, and lack of adherence to treatment.

The WHO Executive Board resolution on rational use of medicines (EB129.R12), to be considered by the Assembly in its current session, focuses on the establishment of national multidisciplinary programmes mandated to coordinate policies on medicine use and monitor their impact.

The resolution also recommends implementing, on the basis of treatments of choice, lists of essential medicines for use in drug procurement and insurance reimbursement; eliminating perverse financial incentives that lead to irrational prescribing; and enforcing appropriate regulation to ensure that medicinal promotion and advertising are in keeping with WHO ethical criteria.

According to Eva Ombaka, coordinator of the EPN, "If accepted, this resolution would enable the WHO to assist member states to take concrete steps on better use of medicines. Which in turn would save public and private resources as well as save lives through better therapy and reduce occurrence of diseases arising from wrong use of medicines. All this applies, not only to the so-called developing countries, but also to the developed countries."

These views were expressed at a joint briefing held yesterday by WHO officials and representatives of the EPN, Health Action International (HAI), Action on Antibiotic Resistance (REACT) and the WCC in order to promote a deeper understanding of the resolution amongst the delegates to the Assembly.

The World Health Assembly is the supreme decision-making body of the WHO. Attended by delegations from the 193 member states, it meets in Geneva in May each year to determine the policies of the organization. In its 60th edition, the Assembly is to consider resolutions recommended by the WHO Executive Board on the rational use of medicines, among other issues.

The WCC's health and healing project is facilitating the participation at the Assembly of some 80 representatives of grassroots organizations working on health issues.

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