Getting Medicines to the Neediest

Access to safe medicines is a major global public health challenge. Today, one-third of the world's population lacks access to essential medicines. And in parts of Africa almost half the population cannot get necessary drugs. Each year, more than 10 million children die before the age of five from diseases and conditions that are largely preventable, or easily treated with medicines.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a mother in a rural community may walk hours to reach the nearest clinic, only to be told the medicines she needs to treat her sick child are not available. Perhaps she will simply return home and pray that her child gets well, or if there is a local drug seller nearby and she has a bit of money, perhaps she will purchase only a portion of the medicine her child needs.

This is a common occurrence in Africa, and in many poor countries around the world. While pharmaceuticals have revolutionized health care over the last 50 years in developed countries, such as the United States, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom, poor countries have largely been left out.

Why is this? There are a variety of factors that affect access to medicines. Some of these include the geographic location of health care facilities, availability of medicines within facilities, the price of medicines, prescribing practices and drug quality. If we are to help poor people gain access to medicines, we need to look at all these issues.

Innovative programs, such as Management Sciences for Health's Strategies for Enhancing Access to Medicines (SEAM) Program are responding to the challenge of improving access to essential medicines. SEAM, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is working with both the private and public sectors in selected developing countries to improve the systems through which drugs are supplied.

SEAM also has created a forum for the world's pharmaceutical experts to come together with government officials, donors, and people most affected by the lack of access to essential medicines to discuss ways of improving access to medicines. From December 10-12, 2003, SEAM will host its third international conference on "Targeting Improved Access" in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The conference will feature a combination of plenary and parallel track sessions and roundtable discussions, giving participants the chance to share their knowledge and experiences.

The 2003 SEAM Conference is being presented in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of the United Republic of Tanzania, the World Health Organization's Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Network for Rational Use of Drugs, and MSH's Rational Pharmaceutical Management Plus Program, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.