Health ministers and officials of the 11 member countries of WHO South-East-Asia Region (SEAR) signed the ‘Delhi Declaration’ to improve access to essential medical products at its 71st Regional Committee (RC) session in New Delhi, India yesterday.

Regional director WHO SEA, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said access to safe, effective and affordable medical products are vital to prevent sufferings and impoverishment resulting from high out-of-pocket expenses on healthcare by families, especially the poor.

According to a press release from WHO SEAR, to overcome challenges, the declaration calls for allocation of sufficient financial resources by countries, as part of overall health financing strategies and to reduce out-of-pocket payments of families on essential medicines.

It also calls for strengthening national policies, regulation, supply chain management, and capacity to leverage intellectual property and trade for public health, to improve access to medicines and vaccines.

With the signing of the declaration, the member countries committed to developing an effective, transparent and participatory mechanism for regional price negotiation and pooled procurement to ensure accessibility and affordability of essential medical products for life threatening and rare diseases.

The member countries committed to strengthen regulatory cooperation and collaboration to improve availability, quality and safety of essential medical products through the South-East Asia Regulatory Network (SEARN).

“With the region emerging as a major manufacturer of essential medical products especially generic medicines, member countries agreed to leverage this strength to improve accessibility and affordability both within the region and beyond,” it states.

Member countries also committed to develop an essential medical products list, in particular essential diagnostics list, for improved patient care, affordability of quality tests, and greater capacity to diagnose diseases during outbreaks and strengthened capabilities of national laboratories.

Medical products are a major component of out-of-pocket health care spending which has pushed 65 million people into poverty in the WHO SEAR, it states. “Though significant efforts have been made by countries in recent years, as improving access to essential medicines is a WHO flagship priority programme in the region since 2014, challenges remain in providing the right medical products at the right time to those in need.”

The member countries agreed to ensure universal accessibility and affordability of essential medical products by 2030, as part of achieving universal health coverage and the health-related goals of SDG 2030 agenda.

A special commemorative document was released to mark 70 years of WHO in South-East Asia Region during the inauguration of the RC session on September 3.

Staff reporter