On 24 April 2023, Dr Joanna Laurson-Doube, International Consultant – Access to Healthcare for MSIF, attended the Open Session of the 24th Expert Committee on Selection and Use of Essential Medicines at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

During the Closed Session of this meeting, the Expert Committee reviews all applications to add medicines to the WHO’s Essential Medicines List (EML), including our application to add MS treatments.

Dr Laurson-Doube delivered a statement to the committee on behalf of a group of global and regional neurological organisations, the full text of which is written below:

This statement is delivered on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, WHO Collaborating Centre Bologna, Cochrane Multiple Sclerosis and Rare Diseases of the CNS Review Group, Alzheimer’s Disease International, International League Against Epilepsy, International Bureau for Epilepsy, the African Academy of Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology, the European Academy of Neurology and the World Federation of Neurology.

The increasing prevalence of neurological conditions is a global health crisis that requires urgent attention. Neurological conditions are the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death worldwide. 1 in 3 people will suffer from a neurological disorder at some point in their lives. Despite there being effective treatments for some neurological conditions – which can significantly reduce the burden of disability experienced by people living with them – the reality is that a large proportion of people are not able to access the treatments they need.

As global and regional neurological organisations, we have been, and will continue to, work to change this. Listing medicines on the EML for neurological conditions – including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease – will underpin and drive forwards our efforts.

Brain Health is a WHO priority. In May 2022, during the 75th World Health Assembly, Member States unanimously approved the ten-year Intersectoral Global Action Plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

As stated in this global plan, essential medicines play a vital role in both the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders. It is critical that the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines is updated to reflect this. This will support countries – particularly low and middle-income countries where 70% of the global burden of neurological disorders falls – to select and prioritise essential medicines required to manage neurological disorders. And it will provide the catalyst needed for governments to promote activities that can improve access to affordable, safe, effective and quality medicines.

We believe that everyone with a neurological condition, including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, has a right to care and treatment. A decision to list these medicines will initiate a paradigm shift in access to treatment for neurological disorders, enabling us to work towards improving the lives of millions of people across the world.

During the meeting, several other statements were presented. The Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) spoke in support of our application, emphasising the rigorous approach we took, and the number of organisations that endorsed the application. You can read CHAI’s letter of support here.

Dr Benedikt Huttner from the WHO EML Secretariat spoke about the challenges of prioritising medicines for the EML when there are multiple treatments available – as is the case in MS – and used our application of the comprehensive methodological approach that needs to be taken.

We now await the outcome of the Expert Committee’s decision, which we expect to be released in June 2023.