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Essential medicines are the medicines that satisfy the priority health care needs of a population. They are selected according to public health relevance, evidence on efficacy and safety and comparative cost–effectiveness. Essential medicines are intended to be available within the context of functioning health systems at all times in adequate amounts, in the appropriate dosage forms, with assured quality and adequate information, and at a price the individual and the community can afford.

The implementation of the concept of essential medicines is intended to be flexible and adaptable to many different situations; exactly which medicines are regarded as essential remains a national responsibility. Sustainable and equitable provision of essential medicines is one of the eight core elements of primary health care. Responding to country needs, WHO’s medicines strategy focuses on: medicines policy; access; quality and safety; and rational use.

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Regional committee resolutions and technical papers

Statistics and figures

Regional Health Observatory

Average pharmaceutical expenditure: US$ 1141 million

Average pharmaceutical expenditure per capita: US$ 57 

Average density of pharmacists: 5.02 per 10 000 population

Average number of licensed pharmaceutical manufacturers: 52

Average number of registered pharmaceutical products: 7529