Access to essential medicines to treat chronic respiratory disease in low-income countries

Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2016 Jun;20(6):717-28. doi: 10.5588/ijtld.15.0734.


Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) affect hundreds of millions of people. The United Nations 2011 meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) marked a turning point in addressing this burden. The targets established following this meeting incorporated specific measures to address the availability and affordability of essential medicines. These are aligned with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the push for universal health coverage. However, essential medicines for CRDs remain unaffordable and unavailable to many. For asthma, the availability of medicines was respectively 30.1% and 43.1% in the public and private sectors. The maximum annual costs of treatment were US$102.10 for beclometasone, US$82.99 for salbutamol and US$1501.79 for budesonide, representing respectively 40%, 15% and 209% of per capita income in Malawi, Burkina Faso and Guinea. Multiple factors contribute to poor availability and affordability. Experience from human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune-deficiency syndrome shows that medicines and care can be delivered in low-income countries and among the NCDs. A unique example of an effective mechanism for providing access to affordable essential CRD medicines is the Asthma Drug Facility. Working on the six health system building blocks proposed by the World Health Organization can help countries address not only problems regarding access to medicines, but also those hampering adequate care. Improving medicine supply systems, training, national guidelines, financing, research, data utilisation and models of care at the primary health care level will help. A CRD target (e.g., 50% reduction in asthma hospitalisations) as well as the use of asthma as a measure for health system effectiveness and CRDs as a tracer for SDGs would help focus global, national and local leadership.

MeSH terms

  • Albuterol / economics
  • Albuterol / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / economics
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Beclomethasone / economics
  • Beclomethasone / therapeutic use
  • Burkina Faso
  • Chronic Disease
  • Developing Countries*
  • Drugs, Essential / economics
  • Drugs, Essential / therapeutic use*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Guinea
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / drug therapy
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / economics
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Private Sector
  • Public Sector
  • Respiration Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Respiration Disorders / economics
  • United Nations
  • World Health Organization


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Drugs, Essential
  • Beclomethasone
  • Albuterol