WHO's essential medicines and AWaRe: recommendations on first- and second-choice antibiotics for empiric treatment of clinical infections

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2024 Apr:30 Suppl 2:S1-S51. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2024.02.003. Epub 2024 Feb 9.


The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (EML) prioritizes medicines that have significant global public health value. The EML can also deliver important messages on appropriate medicine use. Since 2017, in response to the growing challenge of antimicrobial resistance, antibiotics on the EML have been reviewed and categorized into three groups: Access, Watch, and Reserve, leading to a new categorization called AWaRe. These categories were developed taking into account the impact of different antibiotics and classes on antimicrobial resistance and the implications for their appropriate use. The 2023 AWaRe classification provides empirical guidance on 41 essential antibiotics for over 30 clinical infections targeting both the primary health care and hospital facility setting. A further 257 antibiotics not included on the EML have been allocated an AWaRe group for stewardship and monitoring purposes. This article describes the development of AWaRe, focussing on the clinical evidence base that guided the selection of Access, Watch, or Reserve antibiotics as first and second choices for each infection. The overarching objective was to offer a tool for optimizing the quality of global antibiotic prescribing and reduce inappropriate use by encouraging the use of Access antibiotics (or no antibiotics) where appropriate. This clinical evidence evaluation and subsequent EML recommendations are the basis for the AWaRe antibiotic book and related smartphone applications. By providing guidance on antibiotic prioritization, AWaRe aims to facilitate the revision of national lists of essential medicines, update national prescribing guidelines, and supervise antibiotic use. Adherence to AWaRe would extend the effectiveness of current antibiotics while helping countries expand access to these life-saving medicines for the benefit of current and future patients, health professionals, and the environment.

Keywords: Anti-bacterial agents; Anti-bacterial agents/therapeutic use; Antimicrobial; Drug resistance; Drugs; Essential; Guidelines; Humans; Stewardship; World Health Organization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Antimicrobial Stewardship*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy
  • Drugs, Essential* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • World Health Organization*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Drugs, Essential