Last week, Patrick Phiri, Senior Technical Advisor, and I had the pleasure of meeting the first cohort of students enrolled in the Pharmacy Assistants Program training course at the Malawi College of Health Sciences. This group of 50 talented and eager students will be the first trained pharmacy personnel to work in rural public health facilities throughout Malawi. These 50 students were selected from more than 1,200 applicants. Patrick and I were very happy to congratulate the students on their achievement so far and wish them success as they begin their studies.
In Malawi, health facilities and the communities they serve often suffer from a lack of life-saving medicines, primarily due to weak supply chain management systems, poor pharmaceutical management, a lack of data on medical consumption, and inadequately trained personnel. VillageReach, in partnership with the Malawi Ministry of Health, the Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS) and the University of Washington Global Medicines Program, is working to accelerate progress towards addressing these key barriers to medicines availability at the facility and district levels by implementing a new approach to the training, deployment, and support of an enhanced Pharmacy Assistant cadre.
As part of a two-year certificate training program, these 50 students will spend ten weeks on campus receiving an orientation in pharmaceutics, pharmacology, and medicines and medical supplies management. After ten weeks, half of the students will be deployed to 12 district hospital pharmacies to begin five months of on-the-job training under the mentorship of Pharmacy Technicians while the other half will remain on campus to continue their classroom learning. After the initial five months, the students will switch places. In their second year of studies, the students will continue with the same schedule only instead of district hospitals, the students will be placed at rural health facilities. As a result, the students will be contributing to improving pharmacy management and supply chain needs at district hospitals beginning in their first year, and at rural health facilities in their second year of studies.
Once these students graduate, they will nearly double the existing pharmaceutical work force in the public health system. According to the 2011 Health Sector Strategic Plan (HSSP), there are only five pharmacists in the country’s public health sector to fill an estimated 90 positions and only 24% of the established positions for pharmacy technicians are filled, leaving clinical and frontline health workers responsible for managing pharmacies and logistics duties. Despite the fact that the vast majority of medical commodities inventoried in rural health facilities’ dispensaries are prescription-level medicines within the United States context, the pharmacy positions are not staffed by qualified pharmacists or pharmacy technicians or other experienced staff. Instead, guards, attendants or other community members with no formal training are responsible for this critical work. The demand for pharmaceutical services, particularly with the advent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has increased markedly and points to the need for a comprehensive and sustainable scale-up of the pharmaceutical workforce in Malawi.
The Malawi MoH established a target to train and deploy at least 650 Pharmacy Assistants to enable every health facility in the country to have trained pharmacy personnel on staff. These first 50 students mark the beginning of a large effort in Malawi to improve medicines and medical supplies management in the country. We expect that at this time next year, we will be meeting the next 100 students enrolled in the program. For now, we are thrilled to meet these 50 committed individuals and wish them the best of luck in their studies. We look forward to seeing their success in both the classroom and in their work as Pharmacy Assistants.
Health Systems Group