When Judy Burrows first arrived in the African country of Malawi to help improve medication management at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, what she saw was often “appalling, jaw-dropping”.
But after two visits the University of Queensland School of Pharmacy lecturer is pleased to see progress is under way.
“Initially, I saw things such as morphine mixture being stored in an unlocked drug trolley in water bottles without labels,” Ms Burrows said.
“There were a lot of out-of-date medicines, tablet containers with no expiry dates marked and different strengths and brands of tablets all mixed in together.
“Many supplies weren’t locked or secured, so theft of medication was a significant problem.”
Ms Burrows said on her initial trip to the impoverished nation – where the average wage is AU$1.30 per day – pharmacists were reluctant to leave the pharmacy and venture into the hospital wards to provide services over and above procurement and dispensing.
Her link to Malawi came via former UQ student Dina Kamowa, who completed a Masters in Clinical Pharmacy in 2013.
Since returning to her home country, Ms Kamowa has been striving to implement clinical pharmacy into the pharmacy program at the University of Malawi, with a goal to prepare graduates to provide clinical services in the hospital wards.
“When the opportunity presented itself to assist Dina, it took me all of five seconds to agree to it,” Ms Burrows said.
“A German organisation called GIZ made it possible and UQ has supported me all the way.
“It’s been an amazing, rewarding – admittedly at times frustrating – experience, and I was so pleased to see in my latest visit a marked change in the pharmacists’ and interns’ morale and enthusiasm.
“They had developed a confidence in their expanded role and a stronger identity as pharmacists.”
During her time in Malawi, Ms Burrows helped stage a medication safety workshop, taught a range of subjects to pharmacy students, performed ward rounds and attended a graduation.
Importantly, she supervised the implementation of a pilot project to introduce a ward pharmacy service.
Ms Burrows said the project’s aim was to improve medication management, safety and efficiency, and to reduce costs and waste, enhancing the contribution that pharmacists could make to patient care.
Words: Rob Burgin