My name is Loveness Kasiyamphanje. I am originally from Ntcheu, in the Central Region of Malawi, but I currently live in Namiyango in Blantyre District. I am pursuing a Certificate in Pharmacy Programme at Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS), Lilongwe Campus. The programme was created by VillageReach, the Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS) and their partners. The Programme is for two years and I am in the first year.
I had always desired to work in the health sector because I was sure that after training I would get a job. Secondly, the deplorable state of our health services mainly due to lack of trained human resource meant that once I get training, I will be of great help to rural communities who are the least served when it comes to health services. I was not sure about what I was getting into because the pharmacy program in Malawi is one of the least known programs, as compared to nursing and the clinical field, hence this is one of my motivating factors to take up this challenge.
While waiting to find out if I was accepted to the programme, I decided to observe some of the duties and pharmacy practices at the nearest Health Centre from my home. Although I was not trained, I could observe some of the poor services being offered at the clinic in regards to the pharmacy. The dispensers were not clearly giving instructions as to how the medicine should be taken, not mentioning the name of the drugs. I recall one time when my sister, who was asthmatic, was given aspirin which had an adverse effect on her. Some of the pharmacy personnel who were responsible for dispensing would leave patients on the queue and go to mop rooms whilst patients were waiting for them. Medicines were being dispensed without packs, with bare hands, and ailing patients were not receiving proper attention and care. For reasons like these, I was interested in the program so that I can make a difference after graduation.
I was invited for oral interviews at Lilongwe campus. It was a big challenge for me because I had never attended an oral interview in my life. This was also an opportunity for me to see the city of Lilongwe. I attended the interviews and one week later, I received a phone call from MCHS, Lilongwe Campus informing me about the good news of my admission into the programme.
When we arrived on campus, the Head of Programmes said that we would stay for ten weeks for basic orientation and half of the class would go for District practical attachments. We started learning basic courses like Anatomy and Physiology, First Aid, Microbiology, Parasitology, Chemistry, Counseling, Communication and Computer Skills. After that, we were partly introduced to programme courses like Pharmacology, Pharmaceuticals and Medicine Management. Then our group, which has 50 students, was divided into two cohorts. I was part of cohort one. Cohort two stayed at the campus while cohort one went to District Hospitals for practical attachments.
I was allocated to Mulanje District Hospital. I was under the supervision of the Pharmacy Technician. I performed a number of activities like pre packing and dispensing medicines, labeling the pill packs, issuing medicines and medical supplies, recording on the stock card any transaction carried, going to Regional Stores for emergency orders and also making sure that the pharmacy was tidy all the times. I was also compiling monthly reports and entered them in the supply chain manager computer program.
I then went to a local health centre in the same district for two weeks. I observed several problems, but the most critical problems were
1) Dispensing personnel had not gone through an intensive training on medicines and their pharmacological properties.
2) Poor record keeping led to the facility either having too much stock or not enough.
I managed to make changes at the Health Centre, advising them based on what I had learned at the District Hospital– to help them improve hygiene and safety standards. In addition, I informed them of the importance of keeping records properly to provide accurate consumption data, the losses and adjustments made, the stock outs experienced and the quantity to be reordered.
I was very happy to see the resolutions that I made being implemented at the facility.
This programme, therefore is very important because it will help in combating some of the problems that many health centres are experiencing in Malawi. It will help fill the gap that currently exists in terms of qualified pharmacy assistants in the health centres. With better trained pharmacy personnel, there will be proper record keeping, good dispensing skills and proper management of medicines. Patients will receive recommended combinations and full information on how to take the medication.
The need for more pharmacy assistants in Malawi cannot be over emphasized. Ward attendants, guards and drug clerks who are currently being entrusted with the responsibility of dispensing drugs leaves patients at the risk of getting adverse effects of taking medication without proper information.
Although the program is being taught by well experienced lecturers and also at an institution with a long history of producing quality products, there is still a need for more resources to support the program such as books, classroom space, full-time lecturers, and other resources.
I am looking forward to the five months health centre practical allocation. I hope I will make a much greater change than that of two weeks stay at my local health centre. I hope this programme will continue so that there are pharmacy assistants in the health centres all over the country.
Lastly, I would like to express my special thanks to the programme sponsors who make this program possible, and the Lecturers for the wonderful job that they are doing of ensuring that we get the best skills at school.