Objective: To obtain the perspectives of some small- and medium-sized organizations on the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalification programme for medicines and to ascertain organizations' unmet needs.
Methods: We conducted an exploratory, qualitative study in 2018 among 17 representatives of 15 small- and medium-sized Belgian and non-Belgian organizations who purchase medicines for humanitarian, development or public programmes in low- and middle-income countries. We used semi-structured interviews to obtain respondents' views and experiences of using WHO prequalification guidance when procuring medicines. We identified emerging themes and formulated recommendations about the activities of the WHO Prequalification Team.
Findings: Most respondents suggested expanding prequalification to essential antibiotics, particularly paediatric formulations; and insulin, antihypertensives and cancer treatments. Respondents were concerned about irregular availability of WHO-prequalified medicines in the marketplace and sometimes high prices of prequalified products. Small organizations, in particular, had difficulties negotiating low-volume purchases. Organizations working in primary health care and hospitals seldom referred to the prequalified lists.
Conclusion: We recommend that the WHO-prequalified products be expanded to include essential antibiotics and medicines for noncommunicable diseases. The WHO Prequalification Team could require prequalified manufacturers to make publicly available the details of their authorized distributors and facilitate a process of harmonization of quality assurance policies across all donors. Prequalification of distributors and procurement agencies could help create more transparent and stringent mechanisms. We urge WHO Member States and funders to sustain support for the WHO Prequalification Team, which remains important for the fulfilment of universal health coverage.