25th September was chosen as the date for World Pharmacists Day as a memorial of the formation of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) which occurred on the same day in 1912. FIP is the global body that represents pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists. The day was chosen to recognize the role that pharmacists play in society and to raise awareness of the profession’s activities because pharmacists play a key role in assuring safe medication use. This year’s theme aims to celebrate the pharmacy profession by demonstrating its positive impact on health and to foster unity within the profession!
The Pharmacy profession is a versatile profession that combines science, healthcare, direct patient care, business, and technology. It is a service-oriented profession that revolves around patients and medicines. Pharmacists play a critical role on any team of doctors and are commonly referred to as “medication experts” due to their extensive training and expertise in medication therapy.
The pharmacy profession in Africa has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. It has evolved from the traditional product focus to patient-centered care. Pharmacists in Africa were typically known for compounding, dispensing, supply chain, and manufacturing, but with the global advancements in healthcare delivery, and establishments of specialized services in hospitals, pharmacists are now getting recognized as valuable members of hospital healthcare teams. They are now more involved in direct patient care, applying their critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills during pharmacotherapy. Many hospitals in Africa now acknowledge the role of pharmacists and as a result, multidisciplinary ward rounds and clinical teaching sessions that include pharmacists are a routine practice . Pharmacists are now involved in specialized services such as the pharmacotherapy of renal disease, cardiac patients, and nuclear medicine, and in doing so are improving health outcomes of the patients they serve.
When COVID-19 hit Africa, pharmacists, as front-line workers, contributed to the response by ensuring continuous supply of essential medicines. For the trial medications, pharmacy expertise was sought for drug therapy management, especially for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms. In Kenya for example, the pharmacy profession responded immediately by forming a COVID-19 taskforce comprising different committees that not only contributed to public education but also developed a case management handbook for the pharmaceutical management of COVID-19. Pharmacists in manufacturing, supply chain, and regulatory bodies worked together to facilitate the procurement of vital medications e.g., remdesivir, tocilizumab, that were being administered on trial basis.
Pharmacists in Africa often provide a second opinion to patient therapy and their involvement in active patient care reduces medication errors resulting in a positive impact on patient safety. Medication Therapy Management (MTM) services usually involve review of patients’ prescriptions and in consultation with the prescriber, determining the best combination of drugs required for treatment. This service has cut down on polypharmacy (use of multiple medicines) and improved medication adherence. According to the WHO, one out of four patients are harmed by the care they receive in ambulatory and primary care settings. Adverse drug events account for a huge number of hospitalizations and emergency visits. The global cost associated with medication errors has been approximated at USD 42 billion annually . The likelihood of patients in Africa who may be harmed during patient care may even be higher than the WHO estimates. For this reason, the recognition of pharmacists as integral parts of healthcare teams should be a priority. A clinically oriented pharmacy profession is not yet universal in Africa, but efforts are underway to increase the advocacy for the adoption of clinical pharmacy practice in hospitals.
Globally, the community pharmacist is considered a trusted, esteemed, and dependable, healthcare provider. In Africa the community pharmacist is often both the first and the last point of call for health seekers as they interact with the health system. Similar to the transformation of hospital pharmacy practice, efforts are being made to shift community pharmacists from a product-oriented approach to patient-centered practice that involves patient counseling, history taking and MTM. During COVID-19, and with the restricted movement coupled with fear of contracting the virus in health facilities, pharmacies remained open, and business flourished since patients opted to visit pharmacies rather than hospitals. The demand for pharmaceutical services was so high that many pharmacies adopted innovation and technology to provide online supply of medication. In some countries, e.g., in South Africa, pharmacy clinics contributed to the COVID-19 vaccination drive thereby saving millions of lives. Even with the disruption of healthcare delivery during the pandemic, pharmacists proved a valuable resource enabling continuous supply of medicines and vaccination. The FIP has championed sustained advocacy for all countries to effectively utilize the expertise of community pharmacists by involving them in national immunization programs.
Pharmacists in manufacturing and supply chain are responsible for ensuring that drugs in the market are safe, efficacious and of the highest quality. Africa currently imports majority of its medications but with the new public health order for Africa, a new health standard has been set which will see an increase in local production and manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Substandard and falsified medicines are a public health threat. The skills and expertise of pharmacists uniquely qualify them to perform quality checks and ensure products in the market are safe. Drug regulatory bodies in Africa depend on pharmacists in their workforce to control the practice and profession of pharmacy and ensure a healthy population.
Pharmacists play key roles in many other health related fields. Pharmacy educators ensure a pipeline of pharmacy professionals that will respond to the current needs and future demands of the society. Other pharmacists have ventured into research, project management, digital health, and health business. Even though many do not directly interact with the patient per se, their work indirectly affects the health and well-being of the population.
We celebrate the pharmacy professionals today and recognize them as valuable members of Africa’s health systems. As the world recovers from COVID-19, pharmacists must stay united to restore all essential health services!
 C. D. P. J. N. G. N. R. K. C. A. I. A. A. Dorothy Aywak, “Pharmacy Practice in Kenya,” National Library of Medicines, 2017.
 I. P. F. (FIP), “Pharmacists’ role in “Medication without harm”,” 2020.