For better or for worse prescription medications have become integral to modern living. Studies show 7 in 10 Americans are on medication, and that figure is roughly 50% here in the UK. While there are very real concerns about over-medication, it cannot be denied that there is a very real, very tangible improvement in our quality of living because of these inventions.

One need only to look how penicillin and antibiotics have radically altered the prognosis for the millions with the countless forms of infection. The presence of these agents also allows for a host of other life saving interventions. Surgery would have astronomic mortality rates, cancer patients’ weakened immune systems wouldn’t cope, and transplants would be untenable.

Regrettably this is the reality that much of the world lives in. The WHO has compiled a list of core medicines, medicines that should be available everywhere, and assessed their availability and cost. These drugs aren’t the latest and greatest, they’re cheap, proven to work, and ubiquitous in the developed world including things like amoxicillin, salbutamol, and paracetamol (pdf).

Data from the WHO list of essential medicine availability 2007-2013

First of all this only shows the availability at facilities, this doesn’t even speak as to if the average citizen can afford them. Aside from showing you places where you really don’t want to fall ill in, it’s a fairly interesting marker of the state of health infrastructure. Countries with poor supply chains are unlikely to be able to restock.

Possibly counter-intuitively private facilities do not show much of an association with public facilities. Unfortunately the disparate healthcare systems make direct comparisons difficult to make, though it seems reasonable to assume that in countries with poor public systems, private systems may be more developed.

Potentially the most surprising example is China, having drastically low availability. While healthcare has developed in urban centres, China has a large rural population, which also struggle with finding adequate numbers of doctors and nurses. However progress is occurring, in recent years health insurance coverage has surged to ~95% of the population, and the healthcare market is growing explosively as expenditure more than doubles between 2006 and 2011.

Overall the data is an indication of a larger problem in global health. It will not good enough to run vaccination programs and initiatives, even when large scale infectious diseases are controlled there will be basic deficiencies in healthcare. This speaks to a drastic need for increased infrastructure on a world-wide basis.