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Cough syrup deaths and pharmacists

January 11, 2013

ONCE again the nation witnessed another blood-chilling health-related tragedy which took several lives in Gujranwala. The cough syrup containing dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) is being held as the culprit in the same manner as witnessed in Lahore.

The tragedy exposed the sheer negligence of the healthcare system and the apathy of the administrative authorities toward chronic demands by the pharmaco-medical fraternity for overhauling this healthcare system.

Developing countries like Pakistan had been the focus of various studies aimed at identifying the causes of deaths by various medicine-related incidents. These studies were conducted because of the increasingly popularised concept of globalisation, which has successfully made the world inclined to seek standardised multidisciplinary approach in the healthcare system by all states.

In this regard the World Health Organisation, in collaboration with other public or private stakeholders, has issued guidelines so that optimised healthcare services can be delivered to patients.

To make a safe and effective use of medications so that patients are able get a positive outcome from drug therapy, WHO has strongly recommended a special role for pharmacists in achieving these goals. Not only has WHO recommended a ratio of one pharmacist for a population of 200, but also the induction of pharmacists into community health centres, as well as in hospitals, because pharmacists can effectively handle or manage drug-related problems in therapeutic procedures.

The pharmacy discipline has considerably witnessed transition in its dispensation since WHO highlighted the broader role of pharmacists in the optimised cost-effective therapy.

Besides manufacturing innovative drugs and drug-delivery systems, their safer transportation, proper storage under maintainable conditions, compounding and dispensation, pharmacists have been assigned new roles of counselling and therapeutic monitoring under the plea of ‘pharmaceutical care services’ by WHO.

Governments have been made liable to induce pharmacists in public and private healthcare settings so that optimised therapeutic care can effectively be delivered through selection of safest drugs, minimising drug-drug interactions, avoiding drug-food interactions and maintaining a close check on adverse drug reactions, which are the leading cause of maternal and neonatal deaths in Pakistan.

With the cutoff date for the Millennium Development Goals approaching in 2015, Pakistan’s healthcare system needs to be overhauled on a priority bases. Proper counselling by pharmacists through the forums of ubiquitous pharmacies on the importance of exercise, proper diet, preventing diseases and ways of getting health education can help significantly in achieving MDGs by 2015.

The profession seriously lacks government interest here in Pakistan. Without the involvement of skilful and authoritative pharmacists in therapeutic procedures, medicine-related issues cannot be controlled.

Now, after the devolution in the form of 18th Amendment and promulgation of Drug Regulatory Authority Bill 2012, the provincial governments should, without any further delay, put in place an internationally-practised healthcare system as recommended by WHO.