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A Major Milestone for People with MS: Three MS Medicines added to World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List

3 August 2023

Recognition of a Public Health Need 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) has emerged as an escalating global health burden, affecting approximately 2.8 million people worldwide with an alarming upward trend. Until recently, no medicines for treating MS were included on the World Health Organization (WHO) Essential Medicines List (EML).  

However, in a groundbreaking decision in 2023, the WHO added three medicines – cladribine, glatiramer acetate, and rituximab – to the EML, marking a significant step forward in reducing the global burden of MS.  

The inclusion of these medicines aims to provide greater access to effective treatments for people living with MS and highlights the importance of addressing this condition on a global scale.  

MS impacts the lives of millions of people living with the condition and their loved ones, and the inclusion of these treatments on the EML will improve access to evidence-based treatments. 

Global Consensus on Treatment Availability and Improved Access to MS Healthcare 

The inclusion of cladribine, glatiramer acetate, and rituximab on the EML reflects a global consensus that a range of effective treatments should always be available in all health systems. This consensus is essential to ensure that people with MS have access to appropriate and timely treatments, regardless of their geographical location or economic status.  

The inclusion also provides valuable treatment options for individuals and national health systems. These medicines come with different routes of administration, varied prices (including generic versions) and recommended uses, making them suitable for a diverse range of people, including pregnant women. Diverse treatment options can facilitate improved access to MS healthcare, ensuring that individuals can find suitable and affordable treatments tailored to their needs.  

Expert Committee’s Support for Rituximab 

The inclusion of rituximab as an essential medicine for relapsing-remitting and progressive MS comes with strong evidence of its efficacy and safety. The Expert Committee recognised the value of involving different organisations and stakeholders, including consultation with people living with MS, in determining which medicines to prioritise for EML listing.  The decision to support rituximab as one of the choices, even though it is an off-label treatment for MS was due to its lower cost and the availability of generic versions worldwide. 

A Message of Hope 

For people living with MS around the world, the addition of these three essential medicines to the EML offers a message of hope. This milestone represents a significant step toward improving access to MS healthcare, particularly in regions where resources may be limited. Access to affordable and effective treatments is vital for enhancing the quality of life and long-term outcomes for individuals with MS.  

This announcement by the WHO is a significant development for people living with MS. MS Australia welcomes this milestone, as it signifies global recognition of the urgent need for effective and affordable treatments for MS. The inclusion of these medicines creates opportunities for improved access to MS healthcare, providing hope to millions of individuals and their families around the world.  

As we continue our mission to support and advocate for those affected by MS, we applaud the WHO’s commitment to addressing the challenges of MS on a global scale.  

We remain committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure a brighter future for people with MS. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those living with this chronic condition. 

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A Major Milestone for People with MS: Three MS Medicines added to World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List