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Pharmacy Education and Workforce Planning Important To Improve Health

The dire shortage of pharmacists in Africa and recommendations to help overcome this reality by improving pharmacy education and workforce planning were discussed at a seminar at LIDC. Professor Ian Bates and Tana Wuliji explained the latest trends in the global pharmacy workforce and emphasised the importance of mentoring and better educational facilities to train pharmacy students.
Both researchers work for the FIP Collaborating Centre – a joint partnership between the School of Pharmacy and the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) – and the associated Pharmacy Education Taskforce – a unique collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO), UNESCO and FIP.
At the event on 5 August Bates described how pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are required to provide capacity and leadership to deliver all pharmacy services, including developing and supplying drugs, which are vital for providing healthcare. However, the reality is far from this ideal, particularly in the developing world. Bates showed there are poor retention rates within the profession and the migration of qualified pharmacists is increasing. He called for pharmacists to serve as mentors to provide practical advice to students because traditional pharmacy education has solely focused on science rather than including aspects of patients and health outcomes.
Pharmacy education
Based on a survey of 10,000 pharmacy students, Bates highlighted the wide variety of educational experiences at pharmacy schools worldwide and the gender imbalance among pharmacy students – 75 per cent are female. He also detailed the three-year action plan launched by the Global Pharmacy Education Taskforce in 2008, including its focus on continuing professional development, academic and institutional capacity, and quality of education. The Taskforce meets annually, is conducting case studies in seven African countries and is striving towards creating a global platform for dialogue on pharmacy education.
Challenges and recommendations
Wuliji continued the presentation by showing the lack of pharmacists , pharmacy technicians and pharmacies in Africa; pharmacists are concentrated in Asia and Europe. She showed how this relates to the health workforce crisis: 57 countries worldwide (36 in sub-Saharan Africa) lack adequate health workers to provide basic health services and pharmacy workforce shortages adversely affect the ability of health systems to ensure access to medicines and their appropriate use. Wuliji said there remains a lack of understanding about the role and importance of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, thereby partly explaining why Zambia is virtually not increasing its number of pharmacists in the public sector despite its plan to double its health workforce to 52,000 people. Moreover, as medicines, such as anti-retrovirals, become increasingly complex there is more of a demand for pharmacists.

Wuliji described the different workforce dimensions which need to be addressed, including service level (based on workforce competency), service coverage (based  on workforce size) and service scope (based on workforce capacity). She also stressed local variations and the need to tailor policies to these realities. For example, only 45 per cent of qualified pharmacists are practising in Nepal whereas the figure for is Brazil is 100 per cent. Wuliji said: “It is important not to impose solutions on other countries, but make use of what they have.” Her recommendations included improving the infrastructure of pharmacy schools, developing strategic pharmaceutical workforce plans, building human resource information systems and an evidence base, and developing partnerships with key stakeholders.

By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer, LIDC