According to the World Health Organisation, access to health products and technologies (HPTs) is one of the six building blocks of a well-functioning health system framework.
And medicines form the bulk of these HPTs. They must be of assured quality, safe, efficacious and cost-effective.
This is in line with the theme of this year’s World Pharmacists Day, due on September 25: "Safe and effective medicines for all".
The HPTs will have a central role in the universal health coverage (UHC), whose roadmap aims at putting commodities for public health facilities at about 57 per cent of the total budget.
These take the lion’s share of health resources, reinforcing the role of HPTs in achieving the highest attainable standard of health as in Article 43 of the Constitution.
The onus of safe and rational use of medication falls on pharmacists — the human resources for health (HRH), a health system building block trained to assure the public of the safety of medicines that they get from hospitals and pharmacies and major players in the drug management cycle: manufacturing, selection, procurement, distribution and use.
The metastasising threat of counterfeit medicines is not unique to Kenya; its estimated annual turnover globally is in excess of $75 billion (Sh7.5 trillion).
A 2017 WHO report stated that one in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified.
Substandard medicines may be licensed, but they lack the potency to achieve the desired pharmacological action. Falsified medicines simply do not contain the claimed active pharmaceutical ingredient.
When a diagnosis of malaria is made and you are put on antimalarial tablets, there is a 10 per cent chance that they contain just potato rather than the active pharmaceutical ingredient!
It is grave for majority of Kenyans who place their trust in pharmacists.
Pharmacists, through guiding national drug policies, standards, guidelines and regulation, should ensure that medicines meet the therapeutic standards.
Holding various positions that formulate and direct policy on medicines, they should ensure safe, efficacious and cost-effective medicines.
Further, pharmacists should champion the plugging of the gaps that allow unsafe medicines to circulate.
They should have a strategic presence in warehousing, distribution and storage of medicines and other HPTs to curb circulation of substandard medicines.
With Kenya having one of the most competitive curriculums, its pharmacists are highly skilled and their presence in quality control institutions is an assurance of quality.
But the quintessential victory against substandard and falsified medicines will have the biggest impact at retail pharmacy outlets, where 13.1 per cent of Kenyans seek outpatient health, according to the “Kenya Household Expenditure and Utilisation Survey 2013”.
It aggravates their morbidity and heightens their risk if the medicines are not safe and effective.
Market surveillance by the regulator and higher professionalism and integrity by pharmacists will ensure safety.
While taking their rightful lead role as custodians of medicines, pharmacists should embrace synergised effort and concerted unity of purpose to slay the dragon of counterfeit medicines.
Dr Mulaa is a pharmacist and health economist. [email protected]