The 2017 Essential Medicines List released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) includes new drugs for hepatitis C, leukemia, HIV and tuberculosis, among others.

The updated list also makes new recommendations for what antibiotics to use for common infections and what drugs should be reserved for the most serious circumstances.

“Safe and effective medicines are an essential part of any health system,” said Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation Marie-Paule Kieny in a WHO news release. “Making sure all people can access the medicines they need, when and where they need them, is vital to countries’ progress towards universal health coverage.”

WHO has released the Essential Medicines List (EML) every two years since 1977. This year’s most significant revision is the grouping of antibiotics into three categories:

  • Access – antibiotics that are recommended to be made available at all times as treatment for a wide range of infections, such as amoxicillin for pneumonia.
  • Watch – antibiotics that are recommended as first- or second-choice treatments for a small number of infections, such as ciprofloxacin for a type of urinary tract infection known as cystitis.
  • Reserve – antibiotics that are considered “last-resort” options, such as colistin for life-threatening infections that have not responded to Access or Watch treatment.

The goal is to reduce the pace of antibiotic resistance, according to WHO Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products, Suzanne Hill.

“The new WHO list should help health system planners and prescribers ensure people who need antibiotics have access to them,” Hill said, “and ensure they get the right one, so that the problem of resistance doesn’t get worse.”

The updated EML list also includes:

  • Two oral cancer medicines – dasatinib and nilotinib – for treating chronic myeloid leukemia that is resistant to standard treatment
  • Dolutegravir for HIV treatment
  • Delamanid for children and adolescents with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis
  • Fentanyl skin patches for end-of-life pain management in cancer patients
  • Sofosbuvir and velpatasvir as the first combination therapy to treat all six types of hepatitis C

WHO bases its biennial EML update on endorsements by governments at the World Health Assembly. The list is revised every two years by the members of the WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines.

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