Background: In April 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of "priority medicines" for maternal and child health based on 1) the global burden of disease and 2) evidence of efficacy and safety. The objective of this study was to examine the occurrence of these priority medicines on national essential medicines lists.
Methods and findings: All essential medicines lists published since 1999 were selected from the WHO website collection. The most-up-to date list for each country was then selected, resulting in 89 unique country lists. Each list was evaluated for inclusion of medicines (chemical entity, concentration, and dosage form) on the Priority Medicines List. There was global variation in the listing of the Priority Medicines. The most frequently listed medicine was paracetamol, on 94% (84/89) of lists. Sodium chloride, gentamicin and oral rehydration solution were on 93% (83/89) of lists. The least frequently listed medicine was the children's antimalarial rectal artesunate, on 8% of lists (7/89); artesunate injection was on 16% (14/89) of lists. Pediatric artemisinin combination therapy, as dispersible tablets or flexible oral solid dosage form, appeared on 36% (32/89) of lists. Procaine benzylpenicillin, for treatment of pediatric pneumonia and neonatal sepsis, was on 50% (45/89) of the lists. Zinc, for treatment of diarrhoea in children, was included on only 15% (13/89) of lists. For prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage in women, oxytocin was more prevalent on the lists than misoprostol; they were included on 55 (62%) and 31 (35%) of lists, respectively. Cefixime, for treatment of uncomplicated anogenital gonococcal infection in woman was on 26% (23/89) of lists. Magnesium sulfate injection for treatment of severe pre-eclampsia and eclampsia was on 50% (45/89) of the lists.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that countries need to urgently amend their lists to provide all priority medicines as part of the efforts to improve maternal and child health.