Helpdesk Report: Availability of essential medicines

Why is there low availability of essential medicines in poor countries? What are the barriers for the public and private sectors?



What are the key factors that result in low availability of essential medicines in resource poor settings? What are the main barriers for the public and private sectors and why?


Medicines are integral of any healthcare system, and limited access to medicines undermines health systems’ objectives of equity, efficiency and health development. In African countries, where it is estimated that 50-60% of the populace lack access to essential medicines, health problems associated with limited drug benefits are more damaging.

The main barriers to essential medicines in Sub Saharan Africa were found to be:

  • Inadequate national commitment to making healthcare a priority.
  • Inadequate human resources for health.
  • The international community has not provided adequate finance nor consistently fulfilled its existing promises to developing countries.
  • A persistent lack of coordination of international aid reduces access to medicines.
  • The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement may block access to affordable new medicines and vaccines.
  • The current incentive structure is inadequate to promote research and development of medicines and vaccines to address priority health problems of developing countries.

The report then focuses on the solutions to these issues including information on national procurement systems, quality assessment of products, national supply, storage and distribution systems, human resource capacity, facility level ordering, storage and distribution systems and patents.


Thompson, S.; Ogbe, E. Helpdesk Report: Availability of essential medicines. Human Development Resource Centre, UK (2012) 24 pp.

Published 1 January 2012