Seven African countries share solutions
Access to essential medicines and medicines expertise is a basic health service requirement. The way that medicines are selected, procured, delivered, prescribed, administered and reviewed is the key to optimising medicines therapy for patient care. To ensure adequate medicines management there is a need for high quality education to prepare an appropriately-trained pharmaceutical workforce for all countries.
Heads of pharmacy schools in Africa, as with all global regions, are facing educational challenges to meet local medicines needs. These challenges are many, ranging from the physical infrastructure and laboratory teaching equipment to the world-wide shortage in academic capacity to fill teaching positions. Seven Heads of pharmacy schools in Africa met recently to discuss how to tackle this situation in order to provide solutions from which the global educational infrastructure can learn.
Sarah Whitmarsh of the Pharmacy Education Taskforce tells the story.
In August 2009, Deans or Heads of schools of pharmacy from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, held a three-day workshop in Nairobi with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) Pharmacy Education Taskforce. They discussed the challenges of educating pharmacists in resource-limited settings in sub-Saharan Africa and developed an action plan to address those challenges.
There are global issues in operation, which the seven leaders identified as being most pertinent in facing the local challenges. Getting qualified and experienced academics to fill teaching positions is a key issue, as is setting up independent quality assurance procedures within institutions. However, the leaders identified ways to tackle this; a recent pilot project conducted in Zambia and Ghana illustrated that cross-border cooperation (in quality assurance processes) can contribute significantly to educational quality and can be cost effective.
Professor Mahama Duwiejua said the FIP Global Framework for Quality Assurance of Pharmacy Education, a document which can be used by governments or institutions to establish or further develop quality assurance systems, was a useful tool to aid the assessment of quality at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. Prof. Duwiejua said, in Ghana, quality assurance systems exist at three levels: the National Accreditation Board, a Quality Assurance (QA) Unit in the university, and the Pharmacy Council. Prof. Duwiejua said the use of the QA tool revealed weaknesses among the institutions, such as lack of transparency and accreditation criteria.
The African leaders also shared strategies they used to address problems at their institutions. For example, Dr Lungwani Muungo, Head of the Pharmacy Department at the University of Zambia has implemented a new staff development tutor programme. The tutor programme addresses academic capacity on two fronts: it offers teaching experience for young academics and also helps better manage available resources in the department’s faculty.
Although the needs within their countries are still significant, the African leaders said they were seeing improvement. For example, they reported an expanded intake of students at their institutions and an increase in employment of pharmacists in the clinical field, especially in private hospitals. Within the last several years, for example, Kenya has focused on increasing the number of well-trained technicians to augment the workforce, and optimising the current skill-mix. Zambian pharmacy schools have placed a stronger emphasis on clinical training and medicines-related public health issues, strategies which are increasingly being adopted by university curricula across the globe.
Encompassing the various strategies shared by the leaders, in addition to evidence-based literature gathered by the Taskforce, small group discussions and roundtable consensus consultations led to a work plan to address these challenges.
The leaders saw potential for further development and collaboration with partner organisations like the Taskforce in four key areas: academic capacity, quality assurance, strategic partnerships, and advocacy and communication. They especially focused on partnerships as the way forward in overcoming challenges due to limited resources. One prominent idea was to reach out to the diaspora and alumni and engaging stakeholders within the community and industry. Forming a regional network of pharmacy educators in Africa was seen as a key activity for the action plan. The leaders said that educating the community and government about the role of pharmacists would help empower pharmacists at all levels. All the leaders agreed that advocacy and better communication were key mechanisms to mobilising workforce and resources.
The proposed three-year work plan will include activities such as establishing an African regional database of pharmacy courses and setting up a team of African quality assurance experts.
Pharmacy education development is a key strategy for the Taskforce in the effort to redress critical shortages of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where some of these needs are most acute. Scaling up of the pharmacy workforce is necessary to ensure improved access to and rational use of medicines. The Taskforce, and the African leaders’ forum, advocate for needs-based pharmacy education development, meaning education that is determined by evaluating the services required nationally and the competencies needed to provide such services.
Sarah Whitmarsh, Communications Liaison
Pharmacy Education Taskforce