Establishing a Framework for Action
A national medicine policy (NMP) is both an expression of political commitment and a guide for action that articulates how a government approaches the goal of providing access to safe, effective, affordable medicines for the population. An NMP provides a framework for coordinating the activities of all stakeholders–public and private sector players, nongovernmental organizations, donors, health care providers, and patients.
Until relatively recently, pharmaceutical policies, where present, often evolved in a piecemeal manner, leading to fragmented approaches, confusion in putting policy into practice, and sometimes conflicting policy guidance. To address this issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) began strongly promoting the national medicines policy concept in the mid-1980s as a means of specifying medium- to long-term goals for the pharmaceutical sector and providing a framework for coordinating activities among stakeholders.
An NMP typically includes commitments to ensure that safe and effective medicines of good quality are made accessible, affordable, and available to anyone who need them, in a rational, ethical, and transparent manner. Grounded in the strategic vision for a country’s pharmaceutical sector, an NMP usually covers objectives pertaining to the manufacture, marketing, pricing, selection, distribution, coverage and reimbursement, quality, and rational use of medicines. An NMP may also express broader objectives aimed at advancing the concepts of universal health care and access to medicines as a human right.
Experience has shown that the essential medicines concept is central to a successful national medicines policy. The core of the concept is using an established list of essential medicines based on standard treatment guidelines, leading to a better supply of medicines that meet the priority health needs of the population, encourage rational prescribing, and lower costs., Above all, an effective NMP also depends heavily on political commitment by government and support from all stakeholders in the pharmaceutical sector.
A national pharmaceutical strategic plan usually accompanies an NMP and guides the implementation of the strategies, methods, and mechanisms required to achieve the overarching objectives of the NMP. Often developed following a comprehensive pharmaceutical sector assessment and options analysis, these plans specify timelines, funding requirements, methods for monitoring progress, and plans for stakeholder engagement.
SIAPS works with WHO and other partners in assisting countries to formulate comprehensive NMPs and developing or revising strategic plans that support national priorities and goals and promote good governance in the pharmaceutical sector. SIAPS helps stakeholders to analyze individual country contexts, identify priority issues, and develop well-informed policies and feasible strategic plans that are fit-for-purpose and locally relevant and to ensure these are supported by effective resource planning and systems for monitoring implementation.
In addition, SIAPS supports health ministries to engage with stakeholders, including civil society, in a collaborative and transparent way though consultation workshops, solicitation of feedback, and information sharing, when developing NMPs and strategic plans.
Working at the national level as well as with disease-specific control programs, SIAPS helps develop, revise, and implement policies and strategic plans. Recently, SIAPS supported Haiti and Namibia in developing pharmaceutical policies, collaborated with the Ministry of Health in Guinea and other partners to review the national medicines policy and implementation plan, and assisted the National Malaria Control Program in Burundi to develop its strategic plan for 2013–2017.
Using an approach that builds country capacity and promotes ownership, SIAPS supports countries in developing comprehensive national medicine policies that are aligned with current country priorities and aimed at improving the overall performance and coordination of activities throughout the pharmaceutical sector.
 Management Sciences for Health. 2011. MDS-3: Managing Access to Medicines and Health Technologies. Sterling, Va.: Kumarian Press.