New Pharmacy Assistant Program in Swaziland

With a population of over a million, landlocked Swaziland faces a shortage of skilled healthcare workers, including pharmacy personnel. There are 64 registered pharmacists, with the majority of them belonging to the private sector as an increasing portion of the population battles several communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and the most prevalent – HIV/AIDS.

The lack of pharmacy personnel has led to an increase in the number of facilities that use non-pharmaceutical staff to handle medicines and medical supplies, resulting in inefficient pharmaceutical supply management. It can also lead to reduced efficiency, due to heavy workloads, and eventually compromises the quality of pharmaceutical services offered in these facilities.

As a way to counter the scarcity of pharmacy staff, the Swaziland Ministry of Health (MOH) requested support from the USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) Program implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) to establish a pharmacy assistant training program.

Earlier this year, SIAPS helped develop a new educational curriculum for approval by the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) and the Southern African Nazarene University (SANU) Senates - two main universities offering health science graduate programs, specifically for nurses. The new training program is a certificate program comprising of two years of full time classroom learning with the second year consisting largely of on-site field training.

As of May, the UNISWA Faculty Board approved the curriculum and is now awaiting final approval from the university Senate. The training program is scheduled to commence in August 2012 with an initial intake of about 25 candidates.

SIAPS is concurrently working with the MOH on finalizing the Pharmacy Bill 2012, which will officially recognize the Pharmacy Assistant position as one of the cadres in the delivery of pharmacy services. This cadre is already recognized in the country’s task-shifting framework documents and has been approved for registration by the Medical and Dental Council - the registration body for most health professionals including pharmacy personnel. The MOH is also working with the Ministry of Public Service to establish posts for this cadre within the public service.

A larger and stronger pharmacy workforce will be better able to manage pharmaceuticals, help ensure improved access to high quality medicines and pharmaceutical services for patients, and ultimately help improve their health outcomes.

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