BACKGROUND: Irrational use of medicines is widespread in the South-East Asia Region (SEAR), where policy implementation to encourage quality use of medicines (QUM) is often low. The aim was to determine whether public-sector QUM is better in SEAR countries implementing essential medicines (EM) policies than in those not implementing them.
METHODS: Data on six QUM indicators and 25 EM policies were extracted from situational analysis reports of 20 country (2-week) visits made during 2010-2015. The average difference (as percent) for the QUM indicators between countries implementing versus not implementing specific policies was calculated. Policies associated with better (> 1%) QUM were included in regression of a composite QUM score versus total number of policies implemented.
RESULTS: Twenty-two policies were associated with better (> 1%) QUM. Twelve policies were associated with 3.6-9.5% significantly better use (p < 0.05), namely: standard treatment guidelines; formulary; a government unit to promote QUM; continuing health worker education on prescribing by government; limiting over-the-counter (OTC) availability of systemic antibiotics; disallowing public-sector prescriber revenue from medicines sales; not charging fees at the point of care; monitoring advertisements of OTC medicines; public education on QUM; and a good drug supply system. There was significant correlation between the number of policies implemented out of 22 and the composite QUM score (r = 0.71, r2 = 0.50, p < 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Country situational analyses allowed rapid data collection that showed EM policies are associated with better QUM. SEAR countries should implement all such policies.