VillageReach, in partnership with the Malawi Ministry of Health, Malawi College of Health Sciences and University of Washington Global Medicines Programs is supporting a two year Pharmacy Assistant certificate course. The College has enrolled fifty students for the 2013 intake. The project is envisaged to address three main factors that affect overall medical supply chain performance namely; human resources, access to information, and availability and use of commodities. Once trained, the pharmacy assistants will be placed at health centers throughout Malawi where currently no pharmacy trained personnel exist.
In February and March 2013, I was part of a team comprised of staff from VillageReach, Ministry of Health and Malawi College of Health Sciences to conduct an assessment in 12 of the country’s 28 districts that will receive students for practicum from May this year. The purpose of our assessment was to collect district level baseline information and identify gaps and strengths on the part of district pharmacies and the Pharmacy Technicians who will be serving as preceptors to the students.
Overall, we found that all the practicum sites have experienced human resources, systems and infrastructure to serve as quality learning sites. However, challenges also exist.
In terms of human resources for instance, our team found that Pharmacy Technician posts are established in all the districts we visited; on average two per district, however the actual filled posts ranged from one to four pharmacy technicians. We also found volunteer pharmacists in two districts.
One of the key challenges that our team noted was that of storage space. This is contributing to disorderly organization of commodities; in some cases our team noted that commodities were stored in several different buildings or locations making it difficult to control inventory.
We also observed delays in submitting district reports, poor record keeping, and general disorganization of data and records in a majority of districts.
Our team also noted that dispensing was not being done by pharmacy personnel. Instead, Hospital Attendants with no training in pharmacy were responsible for dispensing medicines and providing counseling to patients. An additional challenge noted at dispensaries included late openings due to daily pre packing of commodities into individual dosages.
The deliberately enhanced practicum dimension of the pharmacy assistant program design serves several beneficial purposes to both the students’ academic and professional growth, as well as contributing to improved service delivery at practicum sites. Under the supervision of pharmacy technicians, the students will be getting an on the ground practical perspective into their chosen career at practicum sites including experiencing working in rural areas. This setting also presents an opportunity for students to translate classwork and theory into practice, ultimately enriching their academic stance in the training. While supervision and mentoring of the students will be an additional workload on the Pharmacy Technicians, their presence is envisaged to contribute positively to improved service delivery specifically on information management and storeroom management given pharmacy trained staff shortages. This design ultimately prepares the students to hit the ground running with hands on experience upon graduation and deployment to serve in remote health centers where at the moment have no pharmacy trained staff exist.
Monitoring & Evaluation Officer