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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

National medicines policies – a review of the evolution and development processes

Joëlle M Hoebert1, Liset van Dijk2, Aukje K Mantel-Teeuwisse1*, Hubert GM Leufkens1 and Richard O Laing3

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Clinical Pharmacology, Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences (UIPS), Utrecht, the Netherlands

2 Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), Utrecht, the Netherlands

3 Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

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Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice 2013, 6:5  doi:10.1186/2052-3211-6-5

Published: 10 July 2013

Abstract

Objectives

Continuous provision of appropriate medicines of assured quality, in adequate quantities, and at reasonable prices is a concern for all national governments. A national medicines policy (NMP) developed in a collaborative fashion identifies strategies needed to meet these objectives and provides a comprehensive framework to develop all components of a national pharmaceutical sector. To meet the health needs of the population, there is a general need for medicine policies based on universal principles, but nevertheless adapted to the national situation. This review aims to provide a quantitative and qualitative (describing the historical development) study of the development process and evolution of NMPs.

Methods

The number of NMPs and their current status has been obtained from the results of the assessment of WHO Level I indicators. The policy formulation process is examined in more detail with case studies from four countries: Sri Lanka, Australia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and South Africa.

Results

The number of NMPs worldwide has increased in the last 25 years with the highest proportional increase in the last 5–10 years in high-income countries. Higher income countries seem to have more NMP implementation plans available and have updated their NMP more recently. The four case studies show that the development of a NMP is a complex process that is country specific. In addition, it demonstrates that an appropriate political window is needed for the policy to be passed (for South Africa and the FYR Macedonia, a major political event acted as a trigger for initiating the policy development). Policy-making does not stop with the official adoption of a policy but should create mechanisms for implementation and monitoring. The NMPs of the FYR Macedonia and Australia provide indicators for monitoring.

Conclusions

To date, not all countries have a NMP since political pressure by national experts or non-governmental organizations is generally needed to establish a NMP. Case studies in four countries showed that the policy process is just as important as the policy document since the process must create a mechanism by which all stakeholders are brought together and a sense of collective ownership of the final policy may be achieved.

Keywords:
National medicines policy; Medicines; Policy process; Opportunities; Development