Accredited Medicine Stores in Liberia: Helping Fight Ebola

With thousands of people dying in West Africa from the Ebola virus and many more at risk, Liberia’s Accredited Medicine Stores (AMS) and other drug shops continue to help ensure access to pharmaceutical products and services at the community level even as other health facilities have closed down. They also offer the potential to contribute to the control of the lethal disease that has West Africa and the international community on high alert.

Liberia, one of the West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak, is coping with the deadly disease while at the same time trying to keep its public health system functioning. In Montserrado County, which includes the capital city of Monrovia and is home to a million people, over 1000 hospital beds are urgently needed with only 240 beds currently available. This means that entire families currently have no access to critical care as the government and the international community grapple with opening up treatment centers in a country still struggling with the challenges of a decades-long civil war. Among other actions in the fight against Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended greater community engagement to come up with solutions and protective measures for people already living on the margins of survival.

Key community-based resources in Montserrado are the 600-plus Medicine stores, 140 of which are Accredited Medicine Stores, and 115 retail pharmacies that are scattered throughout the county. Their potential for contributing to public health during the Ebola outbreak is significant. In fact, they are continuing to serve the Liberian people by providing access to quality medicines and health supplies in areas where other health facilities have closed.   

Private sector drug shops are already starting to address Ebola-related needs as well. The Liberian Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority (LMHRA), in partnership with the Pharmacy Board of Liberia (PBL), and the Pharmaceutical Association of Liberia, are working with dispensers in AMS and the Medicine stores awaiting accreditation, as well as pharmacists, to provide critical information about prevention, care and treatment of Ebola to their customers. Inspectors from LMHRA and PBL, pharmacy students, and other volunteers were sent to raise awareness among the drug sellers about what to look for and how to respond to potential cases of Ebola. By increasing their knowledge about Ebola and counseling those who buy medicines from the shops, the Medicine dispensers are making an important contribution to containing the virus—and they can do more.

With technical assistance provided by Management Sciences for Health (MSH)’s Sustainable Drug Seller Initiatives (SDSI) program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, over 600 Montserrado County drug sellers have successfully completed training to become licensed dispensers by meeting the standards set by the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. As part of Liberia’s accredited drug seller model, AMS dispensers are allowed to legally sell select prescription medicines to treat conditions such as malaria and pneumonia. This increases community access to essential medicines while offering a business incentive to the private sector shops. Under the AMS public-private sector model, the government sets and enforces standards while the private sector is responsible for the supply of medicines, shop renovations, and training, promotion, and other business costs.

For more information about the MSH Accredited Drug Shop approach, see MSH President and CEO, Dr. Jonathan D. Quick’s pitch for partnerships at the Clinton Global Initiative.