WHO unveils new list of antibiotics, includes HIV, cancer, TB medicines

Thursday June 22 2017

Several new drugs such as two oral cancer

Several new drugs such as two oral cancer treatments and a new pill for hepatitis C which combines two medicines, also form part of the list. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By ANGELA OKETCH
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The World Health Organisation has updated its list of antibiotics, adding 30 drugs for adults and 25 for children.

The WHO also specifies new uses for nine drugs that are already listed. This brings the total number of medicines deemed essential for addressing the most common public health needs to 433.

“New advice on which antibiotics to use for common infections and those to reserve for the most serious circumstances are among the additions to the list of essential medicines for 2017,” said WHO assistant director-general for health systems and innovation Marie-Paule Kieny.

The latest update contains the biggest revision of the antibiotics section in the 40-year history of WHO’s essential medicines list (EML).

The EML is used by countries to increase access to medicines and guide decisions about which drugs they should ensure are available to their populations.

The 2017 update takes into account a review of all 39 essentials antibiotics on WHO’s list against 21 common infections. It includes a more effective treatment for HIV as well as an older drug to prevent infection in people at high risk of contracting the virus.

New child-friendly formulations for tuberculosis, leukaemia and pain relievers have also been included. Several new drugs such as two oral cancer treatments and a new pill for hepatitis C which combines two medicines, also form part of the list.

“The change aims at ensuring that antibiotics are available when needed, and that the right drugs are prescribed for the right infections. It should enhance treatment outcomes, reduce the development of drug-resistant bacteria and preserve the effectiveness of ‘last resort’ antibiotics that are needed when all others fail,” said Dr Kieny.

She said that the changes support WHO’s global action plan on antimicrobial resistance which seeks to fight drug resistance by ensuring the best use of antibiotics.

“The rise in antibiotic resistance stems from how we are using and misusing these medicines,” said essential medicines and health products director, Dr Suzanne Hill.

New list

She added: “The new WHO list should help health system planners and prescribers ensure people who need antibiotics have access to them, and that they get the right drugs which would help stem drug resistance.”

The WHO recommends that antibiotics in the “access” group be available at all times as treatments for a wide range of common infections. Drugs in this category include amoxicillin, a widely-used drug to treat infections such as pneumonia.

The “watch” antibiotics are recommended as first- or second-choice treatments for a small number of infections. Their usage should be reduced to avoid further development of resistance.

This category includes drugs such as ciprofloxacin, used to treat cystitis (a type of urinary tract infection) and upper respiratory tract infections (such as bacterial sinusitis and bacterial bronchitis).

Drugs in the third group, “reserve” are considered last-resort options, and are used only in the most severe of circumstances when all other alternatives have failed, such as for life-threatening infections due to multidrug-resistant bacteria.

They include colistin and some cephalosporins (new generation).

Philip Omondi, the acting chief executive at Kenya Medical Supplies Authority said the Ministry of Health is stocking all the products, except cancer drugs and will ensure they are available in all health facilities in the country.