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Obesity drug may be added to WHO list of essential medicines


HQ Team

April 1, 2023: The World Health Organisation has a Model List of Essential Medicines where it gathers the most essential drugs for worldwide health systems. The list has nearly 600 different medicines under anesthesia, pain and fever and more. The list is refreshed every two years and for the 2023 update, researchers in the US have suggested adding an obesity drug called Saxenda.

Saxenda is an injection that affects hunger signals to the brain and slows the digestive process, making a person feel fuller for longer.

Saxenda is a prescription medication which contains the active ingredient liraglutide. It will be soon off the patent restriction list, allowing for cheaper generic versions to be developed.

It would be the first obesity medicine on the WHO’s list of essential medicines if passed.

“The medicines on the list are defined as the priority health needs of a population. They need to be safe, effective, available and affordable at all times,” said Benedikt Huttner, Team Lead for Essential Medicines at the WHO.

“Our essential medicines list is a template for countries to base their own national list on,” said Huttner. 

More than 150 countries worldwide have already done that — low and middle-income countries rely on the WHO recommendations.

Obesity is a global problem

“Obesity is a global problem that is basically increasing everywhere,” said Francesco Branca, Director of the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development A body mass index (BMI) over 30 is considered obese.

The WHO says that in another eight years, about 500 million people globally will develop a spate of non-communicable diseases due to physical inactivity.

More than 650 million adults worldwide are obese. More than 4 million people die every year from the consequences of obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Most affected regions are North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Earlier considered to be only a problem in the developed world, obesity is now found in low and middle-income countries too. If the governments do not take urgent action to encourage physical activity, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases will impose an economic burden of $300 billion by 2030.

Stressed healthcare systems

According to the global report on physical activity, 2022, less than 50% of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40% are operational.

“Only 30% of countries have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.

“While nearly all countries report a system for monitoring physical activity in adults, 75% of countries monitor physical activity among adolescents, and less than 30% monitor physical activity in children under five years.”

 Benefits to economies

“The benefits are huge, not only for individuals’ physical and mental health, but also for societies, environments, and economies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

Global Action Plan

To help countries increase physical activity, WHO’s Global action plan on physical activity 2018-2030 (GAPPA) set out 20 policy recommendations.

It includes policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport and provide more programmes and opportunities for physical activity in childcare, schools, primary health care and the workplace.

Check Obesity Rates by Countries (World Population Review).



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