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WHO's lists of essential drugs, diagnostics focus on cancer

Dr Tedros Adhanom
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Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Rohit Shishodia
To put more emphasis on cancer treatment and its early diagnosis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has included some pivotal cancer therapies in the Essential Medicines List (EML) and some diagnostics in the Essential Diagnostics List.

These lists are followed by over 150 countries across the globe for treating patients affected with various ailments. The medicine list now has 28 new medicines for adults and 23 for children and specifies new uses for 26 already-listed products, bringing the total to 460 products deemed essential for addressing key public health needs.

The WHO has included five cancer therapies in the EML which are regarded as the best in terms of survival rates to treat melanoma, lung, blood and prostate cancers. The UN agency has included immunotherapies (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) which have delivered up to 50% survival rates for advanced melanoma, a cancer that until recently was incurable.

The WHO has also included three new antibiotics for the treatment of multi-drug resistant infections. The Essential Medicines Panel strengthened advice on antibiotic use by updating the AWARE categories, which indicate which antibiotics to use for the most common and serious infections to achieve better treatment outcomes and reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

The agency has included 12 tests to the diagnostics list to detect a wide range of solid tumours such as colorectal, liver, cervical, prostate, breast and germ cell cancers, as well as leukemia and lymphomas.

To support appropriate cancer diagnosis, a new section covering anatomical pathology testing was added. The WHO has made it clear that this service must be made available in specialized laboratories across the globe.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, DG-WHO, has said that the inclusion in this list of some of the newest and most advanced cancer drugs is a strong statement that everyone deserves access to these life-saving medicines, not just those who can afford them.


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