Selection of WHO-recommended essential medicines for non-communicable diseases on national essential medicines lists


Access to Medications

Global Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) Model List of Essential Medicines includes the medications considered to be most effective and safe to meet the most important needs in a health system. More than 155 countries have created their own national lists of essential medicines based on the WHO model list. The inclusion of a specific medication in a national essential-medicines list is an important initial steps towards making that medicine more widely available and affordable.

Global disparities in access to basic medications are higher in non-communicable diseases compared to acute conditions – particularly across low-or middle-income countries. Non-communicable diseases – such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes – are responsible for 71% of deaths worldwide.

How many national essential-medicines lists around the world include WHO’s recommended, priority medications to address non-communicable diseases?

To find out, we analyzed 137 national essential-medicines lists, and compared them to each other as well as to WHO’s lists. This study is the first of its kind.

The results showed that most national essential-medicines lists did include priority non-communicable disease interventions. However in some countries and for select interventions such as the HPV vaccine, prioritization may be reviewed.

Our goal was to create evidence that advocates can use to petition governments to update their national lists to more accurately reflect the population’s health needs, and that researchers can use to investigate and better understand national essential-medicines list implementation.

The detailed results can also be used to inform progress monitoring toward the Sustainable Development Goal on health.

Access to Medications

Global Health

Dr. Nav Persaud

Dr. Nav Persaud has dedicated his career to narrowing the health gap between the highest and lowest wealth brackets, and to ensuring that everyone in Canada can afford the medication that they need. Dr. Persaud is a Canada Research Chair in Health Justice.


  • Jordan D. Jarvis (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)


  • Dr. Anjli Bali, Research Coordinator
  • Efosa Oronsaye, Research Assistant
  • Hannah Woods, Research Coordinator


  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Ontario Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR) Support Unit

Contact Info

Dr. Nav Persaud

Principal Investigator