NAIROBI: The era of rogue pharmacists subjecting Kenyans to untold suffering through dangerous medical practices could soon be over after industry regulators announced tighter vetting of pharmacists.
The latest onslaught against quacks comes in the wake of reports that about one in every three outlets in rural and low income areas do not meet standards of safe pharmaceutical practice. An initiative by the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya ( PSK) dubbed “Green Cross branding” is expected to ensure only accredited pharmacists operate, guided by rules set by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
The exercise has kicked off and is expected to peak in January 2015. According to PSK President Paul Mwaniki, the situation has been grim over the years. “The question on the lips of doctors has been the way to go because usually, they prescribe medication but aren’t sure whether patients going to buy them from pharmacies will get the approved medicine because of the presence of quacks operating as pharmacists,” says Dr Mwaniki.
The initiation of Green Cross branding, an international bench mark for pharmacy practice, is expected to weed out quacks once and for all as well as end the proliferation of substandard medicine. Dr Lous Machogu, a pharmacist and the chairperson of the society’s Nairobi branch, says the problem of substandard medicine has been a concern for a long time. Mwaniki says the branding will also make it expensive for any quack to practice.
“The aim of Green Cross is to help the public know where they can receive credible information on drugs and where to receive medicine and all pharmaceutical products of guaranteed quality,” Mwaniki said at a media briefing in Nairobi on Wednesday. With enhanced public information from accredited pharmacists, the public will understand key issues such as types of medication and how to use them, management of side effects arising from wrong medication and minimising treatment costs.
PSK hopes the branding will promote the country’s adherence to standard global pharmaceutical practices. Successful implementation of the strategy, it is hoped, will help reduce cases of drug resistance due to misuse of drugs or wrong medication.
The Government is also expected to get its money’s worth as healthcare is heavily funded by the taxpayer. Mwaniki says consumers would be required to visit only outlets with the green cross symbol. “The green cross confirms that the outlet is accredited by PSK and has met all the requirements. Consumers now have recourse in the event anything goes wrong as they can make a formal complaint at PSK and have the matter investigated and action taken,” Dr Mwaniki says.
He says PSK will be expected to take liability for any branded pharmacy that will offer substandard services. “If a branded pharmacist offers substandard services, the client comes to us and we will go after that pharmacist. But if they go to non-branded pharmacists, they will be on their own in case of poor service or substandard medicines,” Mwaniki says. The campaign is also expected to address healthcare challenges that usually put the lives of citizens at risk.
Health experts, for instance, say that while Chloroquine could treat malaria 15 years ago at only Sh10, its misuse saw the parasite that cause the disease become resistant to the drug. The same fate has also since befallen Metakelfin and Fansidar which cost between Sh50 and Sh100. As a result, Kenyans have to part with between Sh300 and Sh800 to buy Artemether Combination for malaria treatment. This, medics say, is an unnecessary strain on the economy caused by misinformation which the green cross campaign hopes to address.
Currently, they are about 3,500 practicing pharmacists in the country, with half of them working in Government facilities. The number of pharmacists graduating every year has increased to 300 from 20 twelve years ago. There are also pharmacists graduating outside the country and coming back to Kenya to offer their services and mostly in the private sector.
“By the end of next year, Kenya will produce 500 more pharmacists from the five universities that teach the course while about 150 more will come back from studies outside the country to practice in Kenya,” says Mwaniki. He says they have put in place an elaborate system to ensure only qualified pharmacists are licensed to practice in the country. In the new system, those seeking registration will be expected to have gone to an accredited institution of higher learning recognised by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
Those who trained outside the country, on the other hand, will have to take Stage One examinations. Applicants who pass the exam will then be put through a year-long internship under a registered pharmacist. They will then sit Stage Two examinations, which they have to pass before they are allowed to practice alone. “It will also be a prerequisite that before any pharmacist practices, they have to join PSK. The pharmacists will also be given a certificate but must do continuous development training and score 40 points to be allowed to remain in the course,” says Mwaniki.