The World Health Organization maintains a list of emergency medicines it deems crucial to addressing the world’s most pressing health needs. The list of emergency medicines is updated periodically based on new research and emerging threats.

Recently, the World Health Organization released its latest revision to the list of emergency medicines. The recent update added thirty new medicines for adults and 25 new medicines for children, bringing the list to a total of four hundred and thirty-three medicines deemed crucial to addressing global health threats.

The update was the largest addition in the 40 year history of the World Heath Organization’s emergency medicine list. The update has added a grouping for antibiotics on the list, now placing them into one of three categories, access, watch, and reserve.

The purpose of the categories is to clearly label how the antibiotics on the list are intended to be used. Antibiotics on the access list are meant to be on hand at all times and used to treat a wide variety of common ailments. Antibiotics on the watch list are meant for more targeted employment, with the primary rationale for their restriction being to limit the proliferation of antibiotic resistant infections. Antibiotics on the reserve list are intended to be a nuclear option and only employed when all other conservative approaches have failed. Hopefully, the new guidance on emergency medicines and additional instructions on their intended use will promote the longevity of our present approaches to treatment until novel approaches can be developed.

Key Points:

  • 1Growing resistance to antibiotics is a serious threat to worldwide health.
  • 210 new antibiotics have been added to the list for adults and 12 for children.
  • 3It is important that the right antibiotics are prescribed for the right infection.


The change aims to ensure that antibiotics are available when needed, and that the right antibiotics are prescribed for the right infections.

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