WHO updates 'Essential Medicines List' to help counter drug-resistance

World Health Organisation has recently had its biggest revision of the antibiotics section in the Essential Medicines List’s 40-year history.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) altered the Essential Medicines List (EML) to categorise antibiotics into three categories; Access, Watch and Reserve.

The motivation is to ensure that antibiotics are available when the need arises and the right kind of antibiotic is prescribed for the right infections.


Research suggests these changes should improve the outcomes and reduce the development of drug-resistant bacteria. It will preserve the effectiveness of ‘last resort’ antibiotics such as gentamicin and vancomycin.

The new categories by WHO apply only to antibiotics used to treat the 21 most common 'general' infections. In the future it could be broadened in the future versions of EML to apply to drugs to treat other infections.


The antibiotics in the Access group should be available at all times as treatments for a wide range of common infections.

WATCH Group 

The Watch Group includes the antibiotics that are recommended as first or second-choice treatments for small number of infections.


The third group includes the antibiotics like gentamicin, vancomycin, colistin and cephalosporins which should be considered the last-resort for diseases. They should be used only when all the other alternatives have failed, for example, for life-threatening infections due to multi-drug resistant bacteria.