Oxygen added to the Essential Medicines List (EML)


In recent years, one of the major concerns for healthcare researchers has been the use of antibiotics. The mutation of bacteria in the body has created a lot of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This forces pharmacists to keep producing new drugs to counter these. Failure to follow the right antibiotic dose and misuse of antibiotics are partly to blame for this.

Cancer cases are on the rise in developing countries. In Kenya patients can sigh with relief following the inclusion of cancer treatment under the NHIF package in recent years. However, many families still struggle to make ends meet; thus find it difficult to contribute to the scheme.  Additionally, there have been improvements in the treatment of tuberculosis in children; with the development of new drugs that are easier to take. All these changes are improving public health although more needs to be done to improve quality and effective service delivery especially in areas where people cannot afford expensive healthcare services.  

A few days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated the EML. Some of the conditions included in this list were cancer, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and HIV. The use of antibiotics was also covered. 30 medicines for adults and 25 for children were added to this list. At the same time, the updated list provided specific new uses for 9 products that had already been listed, thereby making the total number of essential drugs 433 which help deal with the most important public health issues.

One might ask, why is this such a big deal? Why all the fuss about EML?  Here is why; many countries use the WHO EML as a guideline to policy making and decision making on what products should be availed to their people. The WHO Assistant Director – General for Health Systems and Innovation Dr. Marie- Paule Kieny said that, “Safe and effective medicines are an essential part of any health system”.

Medical oxygen remains inaccessible, costly and unsafe to most resource limited settings in most parts of SSA. At the Center for Public Health and Development (CPHD), we have been at the forefront of pioneering life-saving oxygen innovations through Hewa Tele (Swahili for plentiful of air) and OxygenPLUS (Partnership, Life-saving, Universal-access and Sustainable oxygen solution) to make this essential drug added to the list of essential medicines. This will ensure that oxygen delivery to healthcare facilities is prioritized by governments- both local and national, international organizations involved in healthcare provision and donors funding health programs. Dr. Bernard Olayo- the founder of the Center for Public Health and Development and the organization’s Executive Chair has worked tirelessly push to for oxygen to be added to this list. A few days his efforts paid off when the WHO updated the Essential Medicines List and added oxygen!

This comes as good news as CPHD through Hewa Tele is seeking to expand its service provision by building oxygen plants through private- public partnerships with the county governments of Nairobi and Nakuru. Hewa Tele currently serves a population of over 3,000,000 and more than 68 healthcare facilities across 10 counties in the Western part of Kenya.

When talking about the updated EML, Dr. Marie- Paule Kieny emphasized that ensuring that all people can access the medicines they need, when and where they need them is important to countries advancement towards universal health coverage. Hewa Tele and CPHD are doing this in the East African region and will continue saving lives through innovations.