By CLIFFORD KANONO
VillageReach Pharmacy Assistants Program Student– Class of 2015
My name is Clifford Kanono. I am enrolled in VillageReach’s Pharmacy Assistant Training Programme. Previously, I worked as a Health Surveillance Assistant in the rural communities of Nkhata Bay District in the Northern part of Malawi. The health facility I worked in had to serve about 14,500 people in a year—a large number given the resources of the facility. This, like most other health facilities in rural communities face many challenges, but one of the most problematic is the adverse effects of non-trained pharmacy personnel:
- Poor stock management resulting in frequent stock outs of medical supplies
- Expiry of the medical supplies before they are used
- Dispensing of medicine by unqualified staff who cannot give adequate information about the medicine to the patients
- Heavy workload – patients spend more time waiting for medication due to understaffing
- Poor documentation, reporting and organization of medical supplies
Having observed such challenges on a regular basis was concerning to me, so when I saw the announcement of a new training opportunity by the Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS), Ministry of Health (MoH) and VillageReach, I very much wanted to join. I believed this was one way I could help address these challenges and improve the health center in my own community. After completing written and oral examinations, I was accepted to the program in March 2013, and am now finishing my first year of the two-year program. We are 50 students altogether and are split into two cohorts. The first part of our coursework covered basic medical principals such as pharmacology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, first aid, microbiology, as well as medicines and medical supplies management, communication and computer skills. This was very significant considering that most people dispensing medicines in health centers do not have basic education in these areas.
In the next phase of our program, we were deployed to district hospitals for five months attachment (for practical work). At Thyolo District hospital, I gained experience dispensing medicines, record keeping, reporting and talking with patients. We also had the opportunity to visit several other health centers and drug stores (pharmacies) near Thekerani, Khonjeni, Didi, and Gombe. During my visits, I saw many of the problems I had witnessed before such as a lack of supplies (i.e. medicines wrapped in newspapers due to lack of pill packs), stock outs, long waits and generally unhygienic conditions.
I gave advice to the health center staff about the hygiene of the dispensing environment. When I return to the health centre for the health centre management practicum, I will ensure that whatever I have learned is put into practice.
The knowledge and skills that I have gained from this course will allow me to be a change agent on pharmacy issues at the health facilities where I work. The Pharmacy Assistants Training Program is essential to help fill the existing gap in trained pharmacy personnel that is a critical issue facing rural health facilities in Malawi. This will have an impact in the health delivery system in the following ways:
- Proper stock management in the pharmacy, reducing stock outs
- Reduced workload of health personnel, resulting in better quality health service delivery
- People in rural areas will have better access to quality health services
- Reduction in congestion/wait times for patients at the health facility
- Reduction in morbidity and mortality rates as the patients will receive medication on time
Training more Pharmacy Assistants is the best remedy that I have seen so far to alleviate the extreme challenges related to pharmacy.
I would like to convey vote of thanks to our donors (VillageReach and their partners) for making the programme a reality. A vote of thanks also to our Lecturers for their dedication in furthering our education and careers, helping us to become professional pharmacy personnel.
About the Author: CLIFFORD KANONO is originally from Phale Village, Traditional Authority Khombedza in Salima District. He currently resides in Nkhatabay District where he is enrolled in VillageReach’s Pharmacy Assistant Training Program.